U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud expressed disappointment Friday with a decision by the House of Representatives to move ahead with a defense authorization bill that does not contain a provision that would force the Department of Defense to purchase footwear from U.S. manufacturers.
Michaud has made requiring the military to buy American-made footwear one of his signature issues during the last several years. The reason is hundreds of Maine jobs are at stake.
Boston-based New Balance, which employs hundreds of Mainers at facilities in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan, is the only athletic footwear manufacturer that still produces some of its shoes — about 25 percent — in the United States. So, if U.S. military branches are required to procure footwear for fighting men and women from a domestic manufacturer, it could mean a big bump in business for New Balance.
The help couldn’t come at a better time. The 100-year-old company is threatened by a free trade deal President Barack Obama’s administration is negotiating with Vietnam and other Pacific countries that are home to many low-cost shoe manufacturers.
What disappointed Michaud on Friday is that the House of Representatives passed the conference report for the annual defense authorization bill, which sets annual Department of Defense policy and funding levels, without including the protections that would benefit New Balance, according to a news release from Michaud’s office.
The conference report discarded an amendment, which Michaud successfully attached in June to the House-passed version of the bill, that would require the military to abide by what’s known as the Berry Amendment, which has been on the books since World War II. It mandates that the military purchase certain equipment and clothing from U.S. manufacturers.
The military gets around it by providing cash allowances to soldiers to buy shoes.
“The language included in the conference report is weak and will not ensure that DOD buys American-made shoes for our service members,” Michaud said in a statement. “I am disappointed that the final bill did not require compliance with the Berry Amendment, but I will continue to fight to make sure all of our service members train in 100 percent American-made uniforms.”
Michaud, serving his sixth term representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He is the likely Democratic candidate in Maine’s 2014 gubernatorial election.