Enough with the Jones Act talking point

ENOUGH WITH THE JONES ACT TALKING POINT…. Conservatives hoping to complain about President Obama’s response to the BP oil spill disaster tend to have trouble with specifics. The right is certain they want the president to do more, but struggle when asked to elaborate in detail.

In recent weeks, one of the more common complaints has to do with the Jones Act. Liz Cheney, assorted Fox News personalities (Beck, Ingraham, Carlson), Sarah Palin, John McCain, Dick Armey, the Heritage Foundation, and random House Republicans have all said if Obama were serious about the federal response, he would have waived the maritime law.

In keeping with recent trends, the argument has already been debunked, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from repeating it. McClatchy is the latest to try to set the record straight.

That statute, established in 1920, requires that all goods transported between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flagged, U.S.-built and U.S.-owned ships crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Critics say that’s needlessly excluded foreign-flagged vessels that could have helped. […]

Armey and the other Republican critics are wrong. Maritime law experts, government officials and independent researchers say that the claim is false. The Jones Act isn’t an impediment at all, they say, and it hasn’t blocked anything.

“Totally not true,” said Mark Ruge, counsel to the Maritime Cabotage Task Force, a coalition of U.S. shipbuilders, operators and labor unions. “It is simply an urban myth that the Jones Act is the problem.”

In a news briefing last week, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said he’d received “no requests for Jones Act waivers” from foreign vessels or countries. “If the vessels are operating outside state waters, which is three miles and beyond, they don’t require a waiver,” he said.

There are currently 24 foreign vessels from nine foreign countries in the Gulf, helping with the response effort. How many needed a waiver to participate? None. How many vessels have been turned away because of the Jones Act? None. In fact, just this week, a dozen more offers of foreign assistance have been accepted. The Jones Act had no bearing on any of this.

But the right just keeps lying, suggesting Obama refuses to waive the law due to union pressure. Michael Sacco, the president of the 80,000-member Seafarers International Union, told McClatchy that claims of organized-labor interference in the cleanup efforts were “ridiculous.”

Something to keep in mind the next time we hear the argument, which if recent history is any guide, will be made once again any minute now.