By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. is known for three things: his colorful wardrobe, his one-minute speeches and for attaching "Buy American" amendments to every appropriations bill he can find.
The House has approved 10 Traficant-sponsored "Buy American" amendments this year, including four in the past week.
The Poland Democrat from Ohio's 17th District plans to attach amendments to four more appropriation bills later this year, said Charles Straub, his spokesman.
Traficant received approval for the amendments on 14 appropriation bills last year, and has been attaching them to bills for years, Straub said.
But do the amendments mean anything?
American goods: Straub acknowledges that every House appropriation bill has a "Buy American" provision included that requires the government to purchase materials from only American companies whenever possible.
Traficant's amendments only prohibit the release of funds under the bills to anyone or any entity convicted of violating the "Buy American" act, Straub said. There have been only a handful of companies found to be in violation of the act.
If Traficant no longer was the voice of the "Buy American" act, it would allow the federal government to use foreign goods and services when American ones are available, Straub said.
"For too long, the 'Buy American' act has been skirted or bypassed because of loopholes," he said. "The congressman is making sure this provision is kept in the forefront. He wants to ensure that those who are spending taxpayer dollars are required to buy American-made goods."
Positive publicity: Because of Traficant's lack of clout in Washington -- he is under federal indictment and is the only rank-and-file House member without a committee assignment -- the amendments are a great way for the congressman to receive positive publicity, said John Green, director of University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
"This is something Traficant can do that other politicians can tolerate," he said. "You'd have to be very angry toward Traficant to vote against a 'Buy American' amendment. This is one of the last things that's left for him to do because he does not have a committee. Other congressmen have other things. This and one-minute speeches are what he's limited to now."
Members of Congress also would face criticism from constituents for voting against something that promotes the purchase of American goods, Green said.
"Buying American products is already a provision of American law except under extraordinary circumstances, so Congress doesn't care about the amendments," he said. "But most congressmen can't pass up the opportunity to vote for something that says, 'Buy American.'"