As Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat controlled Congress work to jam through an $800 billion spending bill masquerading as economic stimulus, many of us in Congress who are concerned about the exponential growth of the national debt are wondering if Speaker Pelosi has even slightly considered common sense policy alternatives before squandering precious taxpayer dollars.
President Obama's visit this week to a Caterpillar plant in East Peoria, IL highlighted the fact that the answer to the above question is a resounding "no."
Caterpillar recently shed about 20,000 jobs amid the global construction slowdown. Unlike many heavy manufacturing companies, Caterpillar has retained much of its manufacturing capacity in the United States, providing good high paying jobs for Illinois's hardworking families. This despite the fact that a large part of Caterpillar's sales come from outside the United States.
Many of Caterpillar's largest customers are in Colombia. The Drummond mine in Pribbenow, Colombia is home to some 250 Caterpillar machines, including 75 D-11 track-type tractors, which are the largest bulldozers in the world. There are more of these tractors in Pribbenow than any other place in the world, and they are all manufactured here in Illinois.
Unfortunately, for the past month Speaker Pelosi has chosen to waste time trying to convince the American people of the stimulative impact of programs to save the habitat of a San Francisco Bay area salt marsh mouse, instead of easily saving thousands of jobs right here in Illinois with one simple vote in the House of Representatives. Were the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to pass Congress, it would remove tariffs on American goods sold in Colombia, and lower the price of Caterpillar's equipment by ten percent, making it easier for Colombian customers to afford more equipment and allowing Caterpillar to retain some of its manufacturing workforce.
Currently, Caterpillar pays an average of $200,000 duty for each large off-highway truck it sells in Colombia - that is about five jobs lost to completely unnecessary tariffs.
Another example of how to save jobs lies with the automotive industry. We've all seen U.S. automotive executives come before Congress in recent months asking for a bailout for their industry amounting to upwards of $20 billion. Yet passage of the Colombia Free Agreement would eliminate the tariff on U.S. autos, and lower the price of American automobiles in Colombia by 35%, and would cost the taxpayer nothing. Chicagoland is home to dozens of manufacturers that supply parts to the Big Three in Detroit, making the passage of the Colombia FTA undeniably stimulative for our local economy.
Furniture imported to Colombia faces a twenty percent tariff, while computers imported into Colombia are taxed at a rate of ten percent.
For the last two years, as our economy has shed jobs, Speaker Pelosi has refused to allow the Colombia FTA to come to a vote.
Passage of the Colombia FTA would save or create thousands of jobs in the United States - many here in Illinois. Colombian companies that export to the United States have virtually unfettered access to our markets. Currently, ninety-one percent of Colombian goods enter our country tariff-free.
While Speaker Pelosi is the agreement's most dogged opponent - truly, she alone holds the fate of this agreement - this is by no means a partisan issue. Noted liberal economist Jeffrey Sachs recently touted exports as a way out of our economic doldrums. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is an advocate of growing our export economy. Newspapers nationwide have urged Speaker Pelosi to pass the Colombia FTA on their editorial pages.
While Speaker Pelosi has let partisan bickering stand in the way of this job creating free trade agreement, I take heart in a line from President Obama's inaugural speech: "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics "
It is my sincere hope that President Obama's visit to Caterpillar - one of the companies that stands to gain the most from passage of the Colombia FTA - is a signal of a new willingness on the part of the Democrats to give this trade agreement a chance to save American jobs.