WASHINGTON (AP) -- The American flag has many labels: Stars and stripes. Old Glory. And sometimes, made in China.
Congress can't halt the flow of Chinese-made flags, but lawmakers can try to control where they are flown. The House declared Monday that any flag flown on federal property should be made in the U.S.A.
"It's not a major problem facing the nation," admitted Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. "But it's an irritant."
Chinese-made flags seemed to pop up everywhere after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. People rushed to show their sense of patriotism by buying American flags, and U.S. manufacturers couldn't keep up with demand.
Foreign imports of American flags, worth around $1 million annually at the time, surged to nearly $52 million in the weeks that followed.
Then as demand subsided, lawmakers took action, requiring the Defense Department to buy American-made textiles and the Veterans Affairs Department to use American-made flags for burials.
And in the city where Congress meets, only U.S.-made flags fly over the nation's Capitol.
Still, more than 8,000 other federal buildings — courthouses, post offices, border stations, office buildings, among others — are under no such obligation.
Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, wanted to force the government to buy only American-made flags. "But we were told that this mandatory stuff runs into trade agreements," the eight-term congressman said.
That is because the U.S. has gone to great pains to hammer out trade deals with other countries and can't impose new limits after the fact.
His solution was a nonbinding "sense of Congress" resolution that cleared the House on Monday. It doesn't have any teeth, he admitted, but it's a start.
In the meantime, state governments are beginning to weigh in. A new law in Minnesota says all flags sold in the state must be made in the U.S., with violations subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to 90 days. The industry says similar measures have cropped up in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
The country's flag makers can easily make enough flags for the government, said Michael Liberman, president of Valley Forge Flag Co. in Wyomissing, Pa.
"That would be a very, very small part of our domestic demand; there's no problem with that," he said. "Right after Sept. 11, the U.S. flag industry couldn't keep up with demand. But that only occurred for probably four or five months."
It's not just the government — several retail chains have decided to buy American-made flags. Liberman's company sells flags to Ace Hardware, Target and Lowe's. But he's had trouble selling flags to some retailers.
"Others have not had a problem selling flags saying they are made in China or made in Korea," he said. "We're constantly trying to convince them there is a difference in quality and usability."