Should a foreign country, especially one which might be considered an adversary, ever dictate where an American company sends its products? Most Minnesotans would undoubtedly say no.

Yet, in the midst of 3M’s dispute with President Donald Trump (“Trump scolds 3M for exporting masks,” April 4), the company’s own press release acknowledged it had “secured approval from China to export to the U.S. 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by 3M in China.”

The fact is, too many key industries in America have moved their supply chains abroad. For example, China accounts for 80% of our rare-earth mineral imports while environmental extremists block mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

And in the middle of a pandemic, it’s indefensible that we must rely on unreliable production abroad for prescription drugs, antibiotics, and medical devices.

Outsourcing may be good for the next fiscal quarter or for a few politicians who rely on big campaign donations, but it’s not so good for Americans hunkering in place and trying to survive shortages until the virus shutdown passes.

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Some 22 million Americans have been thrown on the jobless rolls, including even more layoffs on the Iron Range. Adding an economic depression to the list of our current woes will not help. The social, human, and health costs from bankruptcy, unemployment, and economic desperation would surely outpace the current crisis.

That means putting America and Minnesota back to work with an infrastructure package that beefs up the nation’s vital assets while at the same time eliminating its idle ones.


The federal government should set up an Asset Recycling Fund to deliver upwards of $1 trillion of new infrastructure at a fraction of the cost. With initial funding of just $100 billion, the feds could incentivize state and local governments to sell off or lease underperforming assets by offering a bonus to any unit of government on a first come, first served basis.

The only condition: all revenue from the sale or lease of government property must be used to build new infrastructure, whether roads, sewers, or bridges.

If you don’t think that would raise much, think again. Australia used these public-private partnerships to leverage just a few billion federal dollars into more than $20 billion in new infrastructure down under.

Throw in the sale of just some of the billions in federal office space, and you’re talking real money — without further busting the budget.

For all our critical needs, we need to prioritize and streamline. The precipitous drop in oil prices has already put a number of small and not-so-small American firms into bankruptcy. North Dakota’s Whiting Petroleum Corp. may have been the first public company to file for Chapter 11, but it won’t be the last if we don’t keep energy production viable in America.

A just-released report from the federal Energy Information Administration already shows a 13% drop in the domestic production of crude oil by year’s end. It’s time to consider import duties on foreign oil whose price has been deliberately driven down by governments in Saudi Arabia and Russia. Critics, many on this page, contend this would hamper “free trade.”

There is, however, nothing “free” about the economies of China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Just as importantly, we need expedited development of an energy pipeline infrastructure such as Enbridge Line 3 in Minnesota. The $2 billion project to replace a 50-year-old pipeline operating at half capacity has yet to secure final federal permits. The project would put up to as many as 8,600 Minnesotans to work in high-paying jobs.

Some are unfortunately portraying fighting a virus and getting Americans back to work as a binary choice. It is not. In fact, you can't do one without the other.

So, let's get started.

Jason Lewis is the former representative of Minnesota’s Second Congressional District. He served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the 115th Congress. He is a candidate this year for U.S. Senate. He wrote this for the News Tribune.