President expresses concern about ”paltry” growth of economy |

President expresses concern about ”paltry” growth of economy


WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. (AP) – President Bush admitted Sunday that he is worried about the economy’s ”paltry” growth and, without making promises, assured steel company executives and workers that protecting domestic steel is a national security priority.

The president and first lady Laura Bush interrupted their Texas ranch vacation to spend their Sunday like millions of everyday Americans – at a picnic and Little League game.

Bush, the first Little Leaguer to grow up to be U.S. president, was inducted into the Little League Hall of Excellence in South Williamsport and then tossed the opening pitch at the league’s world series championship game between Japanese and Florida teams.

Bush, who claimed the White House only after a contested Florida recount, said with a chuckle, ”I must confess I have a soft spot in my heart for the Florida team.”

But first, there were serious political and policy issues to address here at a company picnic celebrating the 100th anniversary of USX Corp., formerly called U.S. Steel.

”I’m upbeat. My spirits are high,” Bush said in a 13-minute speech at the company parking-lot-turned-picnic-ground.

”But I must confess I’m worried about the fact that our manufacturing sector in our economy is a lot slower than I would hope. … I worry about our citizens who work.”

He bemoaned the ”paltry 1 percent” growth in the economy over the last 12 months and said his tax cuts were just part of a remedy that also includes debt repayment to ease interest rates and ”a trade policy that’s going to have a level playing field as its component.”

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America labor union that worked last year to defeat Bush’s election, welcomed him Sunday as the first U.S. president in 30 years to visit a steel mill.

Gerard also thanked Bush for launching an investigation of foreign steel imports, something the industry did not get from the Clinton administration.

But after being given VIP access to the long chow line, Bush did not address what picnickers here wanted to know: what more he will do about a surge in steel imports that, over the past three years, has sent at least 18 American steel companies into bankruptcy and resulted in the layoff of 20,000 steelworkers.

Instead, Bush generally called steel not just a jobs issue but a national security concern:

”If you’re the commander in chief, it makes sense – common sense – not to be heavily reliant on materials such as steel. If you’re worried about the security of the country and you become over-reliant upon foreign sources of steel it could easily affect the capacity of our military to be well-supplied.”

At tables covered in red-and-white checkered cloths, corporate executives, managers and union workers alike applauded Bush’s remarks over their lunch of chicken drumsticks and kielbasa sandwiches.

But electrician Dan Micklo said what the crowd needs to know is whether Bush will support legislation in Congress to roll back steel imports, penalize countries that subsidize steel shipped to the United States, and establish a loan fund for domestic steel producers.

”If he doesn’t, I don’t see that going too well for him here because right now, that what everyone’s looking for,” said Micklo.

Asked where the president stands on legislation, White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to be nailed down, saying only that Bush is committed to ensuring ”a level playing field” for American steel.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who also spoke at the picnic, is leading negotiations with U.S. trading partners on ways to reduce overproduction and eliminate foreign government subsidies.

But he, too, said nothing specific about next steps. Unfair foreign competition ”is not acceptable and it simply must stop,” Evans said. Bush lost Pennsylvania and the union vote – by a 2-1 margin – to Democrat Al Gore last year and Sunday represented Bush’s latest outreach to constituencies he must court to win re-election.

The bill is H.R. 808.

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Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition:

United Steelworkers of America:

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