Ship aground: Sen. McCain would hurt Pa. river and lake jobs

America needs more domestic manufacturing jobs, not fewer. That simple fact is reason enough to oppose Sen. John McCain’s attempt to rewrite federal law regulating the production and operation of vessels that use U.S. waterways. But it’s not the only reason to reject his effort.

The Arizona Republican, a longtime advocate for changes to the 95-year-old Merchant Marine Act, last month proposed an amendment to the Senate’s version of the Keystone XL authorization bill. It would have invalidated part of the Jones Act, which says ships, barges and other craft that travel the country’s rivers and lakes must be built, owned and primarily staffed by Americans if they are carrying commercial goods between U.S. ports.

The senator says the act is archaic and “hinders free trade, stifles the economy and hurts consumers.” That last claim is based on his assertion that it costs more to transport goods using American labor than foreign-flagged ships.

Although Mr. McCain’s amendment in the pipeline bill failed, he is expected to bring the issue up again. If he succeeds, it could spell the end of the American ship-building industry, threatening 400,000 jobs, both directly in construction and by extension in shipping and the supply chain, according to the AFL-CIO.

Plenty of operators in Pennsylvania and Ohio could be hurt. Businesses along the shores of Lake Erie make their living by repairing vessels that sail those waters, and the Pittsburgh region still is home to similar activity. A Washing....

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