WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin was walking on air Thursday and not because he had just ordered a new pair of New Balance sneakers.
Late Wednesday, Poliquin, a Republican, was successful convincing House committee members to support his bid to see the Pentagon issue American-made athletic footwear to its new recruits in the U.S. military services.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee voted unanimously to add the language to the National Defense Authorization Act after Poliquin and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, worked to muster bipartisan support.
“We had to write a new law to have [the Pentagon’ follow an existing law,” Poliquin said Thursday. “Go figure. So we pushed like heck.”
Poliquin said he was able to persuade all 36 House Republicans on the committee to support the bill and Tsongas was able to convince the 30 Democrats on the panel.
The legislation, added to a federal bill that funds the military, could be a boon for New England shoemaker New Balance, which employs about 900 workers at factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway.
In all, the Boston-based company employs about 3,000 workers in New England including another 400 at two plants in Massachusetts.
New Balance is the only U.S.-based athletic shoe company to offer a product with all American-sourced materials and labor, compliant with the federal Berry Act passed in the 1940s. The act requires the government to provide U.S. troops with, whenever possible, U.S.-made equipment and clothing.
Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, said one other American shoemaker, Saucony, is also looking to bring in a line of all-American athletic shoes, and could become a competitor.
But LeBretton said the legislation offered by Poliquin and Tsongas is the strongest passed yet in what has been a decades-long struggle for the company to get the Department of Defense to follow federal law. It’s also an issue that Poliquin’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, championed.
LeBretton said the unanimous vote on the amendment Wednesday bodes well for the legislation, which still has a long road in Congress. The measure also must be included in the U.S. Senate’s version of the funding package and then survive a conference committee process later this summer.
The House is expected to vote on the full funding bill in May, but the measure may take until September to finally become law.
If the bill becomes law, it would create a lot of predictability for New Balance, LeBretton said.
“It’s great for the factories,” he said. “It would allow us to add jobs, employ more Mainers and it’s a real pride piece for us.
“Made-in-the-U.S.A. is not just a company slogan for these folks, it’s what they do day in and day out to make shoes for the military and the people in our factories are aware of this program and it’s been disheartening for them to have our government continue to say, ‘no’ you can’t continue to make shoes in the United States,” LeBretton said. “This is a real moment of pride for the 900 people who make shoes in Maine.”
Poliquin acknowledged the road ahead for the legislation still has hurdles but he said Wednesday’s vote was a big step forward.
“God willing the president signs it in September, and then, the Pentagon is going to have to issue American-made shoes to American-made kids,” Poliquin said.
As for his new sneakers? Poliquin said they’re red, white and blue, and he intends to wear them in parades this summer as he campaigns for re-election.