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Tuesday August 23, 2011 | 04:17 PM

Rep. Mike Michaud says the Department of Defense should be required to buy American-made athletic shoes for its soldiers.

That, of course, would benefit New Balance, the only major athletic shoe manufacturer which still makes shoes in America – at plants in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway.

Michaud, D-2nd, said today he will introduce legislation when Congress returns from its August recess requiring that all athletic footwear for American service members be domestically procured. While there is a requirement that the defense department get from domestically produced or grown sources its food, clothing, steel and other supplies, that doesn’t apply to athletic shoes, which soldiers buy themselves with a cash allowance.

The issue of whether the defense department should have to “Buy American” when it comes to athletic shoes is a long running source of dispute between the Pentagon and a number of New England lawmakers, with New Balance’s corporate headquarters located in Boston.

Michaud visited New Balance’s Skowhegan plant today as he talked about his proposal. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, toured the company’s Norridgewock plant last week, and the same issue was brought up.

Snowe will examine Michaud’s legislation, said Snowe spokeswoman Katie Bruns. But Snowe also worked with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to put language in the pending 2012 defense bill requiring the defense department to evaluate the benefits of including athletic shoes in the system requiring its supplies be domestically produced.

However, Congress already ordered the defense department to explain its policy, which shifted several years ago from buying athletic shoes for soldiers to giving them vouchers to do so themselves. The defense department said in a June report that, essentially, it thinks athletic shoes should be in a special category because one shoe doesn’t fit all.

The “cash allowance ensures that recruits are able to select and wear the type and size athletic show that provides the greatest comfort and reduces the potential for lower extremity injuries,” the defense department said.

Michaud said New Balance already has shown that it can produce shoes that fit the defense department’s – and soldiers’ – needs.

“New Balance has proven to DOD that it can deliver the footwear according to the military’s specifications,” so there is no reason for the defense department to exempt athletic shoes from the Buy America rule, Michaud said. “I urge all branches of the military to voluntarily purchase American-made footwear for our soldiers.  But in the event they do not decide to procure American-made shoes, my bill would require them to do so.” 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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