Former White House Adviser Presses Obama for 75-Day Jones Act Waiver

Rob Bluey /

The Bush administration’s point man for the Jones Act waivers during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita says President Obama should exert his executive authority and suspend the law for 75 days to help with the Gulf oil spill cleanup.

Keith Hennessey, who served as the deputy at the White House National Economic Council in 2005, sheds new light on the Bush administration’s thinking behind the Jones Act waivers. The law regulates cargo shipping in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports. Some members of Congress have cited the 1920 protectionist law as a hindrance for foreign skimming vessels to aid in the cleanup.

Hennessey noted the 2005 waivers eased the transportation of fuel in the aftermath of the hurricanes. He also makes the case that a short-term blanket waiver would do little harm to the economic interests in the Gulf region. While acknowledging it would be resisted by the U.S. shipping industry and maritime unions, he said Obama should stand up to the special interests.

“A blanket waiver combined with a strong encouraging signal from government officials could, I think, spur significant private help, including from friends around the world,” Hennessey writes on his blog. “We’ll never know unless the President tries.”

Hennessey outlines three recommendations:

• A 75-day waiver through the end of August when the main relief well is supposed to be finished.

• An announcement by Obama that he is ordering Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to issue the waiver.

• Pleas from press secretary Robert Gibbs and the State Department for foreign vessels to come to the Gulf to help with the cleanup.

What are the chances Obama will follow the advice? Based on his refusal to act so far, it’s unlikely. However, with congressional Democrats now joining the chorus of critics, the Jones Act has become a public-relations headache for the administration.