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Stakeout with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Other Participants: Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), Senator Kay Hutchison (R-TX)


Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone.

As you all know, cloture was just invoked on the motion to proceed to the Filipino veterans bill. We should be able to move forward with that bill, I think, relatively quickly, certainly by Senate standards. And then I think the majority leader has laid out where we go after that.

Our group has a particular concern about the lack of action on the Colombia free trade agreement. Senator Martinez and Senator Hutchison want to make some comments about the stalemate that seems to have developed.

And let me just say that we think approval of the Colombia free trade agreement is absolutely essential, to our relationship with Colombia as well as to our own economy. It's entirely to the benefit of U.S. workers.

And with that overview, let me turn to Senator Martinez.

SEN. MARTINEZ: Thank you, Leader.

For a year-and-a-half, we have had a negotiated agreement with Colombia, to provide a free trade platform for us to create more jobs in America. It forecasts that the first year that the free trade agreement was in place, over $1 billion in additional trade would be created between our countries.

Today, American goods going into Colombia must pay a tariff. So by the free trade agreement, that tariff would be removed. Today, good from Colombia come into the United States tariff-free. That would continue.

So it is a bill that would add jobs in America. It is a bill that is in the benefit of American workers. I know in Florida, it would create jobs.

There's another dimension to this, which is also the fact that Colombia is one of the strongest allies we have in the hemisphere. It is a democracy that ought to be supported.

And for that, I'd like to call on Senator Hutchison to add to that point.

SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, I think that one of the things that we must do is reward every democracy in South America. When we know that the president of Venezuela is trying to knock down democracies and is working with Iran to hurt America, we need every democracy that has the strength to withstand pressure from Venezuela that we can get. And rewarding a democracy like Colombia, that has taken such great strides toward making sure that its government is clean, that drugs are not grown there anymore, they've taken really huge measures; and I think that having a free trade agreement with them that builds up their economy with legal substances and helps our economy as well is in everyone's interest.

SEN. MCCONNELL: We'll take a few questions if there are any.

Q Senator, do you think you have the votes to stop consideration of the Lilly Ledbetter bill tomorrow? And what's the source of opposition to that?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I should have brought my Ledbetter expert out here with me to the stake. Senator -- to the stakeout. Senator Enzi and Senator Isakson will be leading the charge on that.

I think I can say with -- in general that the fundamental problem is that it creates massive new opportunities to sue. As I often say, our good friends on the other side of the aisle always want to do three things -- tax, regulate and litigate. We think that this bill is primarily designed to create a massive amount of new litigation in our country, and I think that is the reason for the resistance to its passage on our side.

Q Do you think it's fair, Senator McConnell, that a woman or somebody else, six months and a day after discovering discrimination, that they're out of luck?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, you'll have to ask Senator Enzi and Senator Isakson to talk about the details of it, but we know for sure that it would dramatically increase the amount of litigation in this country. You know, some people would argue we need more litigation. I don't think most Americans think that massive amounts of new litigation are necessarily in our best interest.

(Pause.) Anybody else?

SEN. MARTINEZ: You know, all causes of action (have got ?) the statute of limitations, by the way. That's not unusual.

Q How do you get the House to move on the Colombia free trade agreement?

SEN. MARTINEZ: Well, you know, look, it's important to America. It is important for us to create jobs. It is -- only by the actions of the Speaker is this thing dead. I believe the votes would be there to pass it in the House and I believe also in the Senate.

Q But how do you -- how do you go about -- (off mike) --

SEN. MARTINEZ: Well, basically, it seems to me that when we -- when the Congress passed a fast-track authority that it basically gave Congress fewer options than what the speaker has exercised. So I wonder if legally the speaker is even on solid ground to do what she has done.

I don't have the authority to tell the speaker to move forward. However, I believe that the people of this country really deserve to have the opportunity for their senators to vote on it and their congressman to vote on it.

Ultimately, it is to create more jobs in the U.S. and it's also in our geopolitical interests. This is a country that is our ally. This is a region where we need friends. And this is also about the -- you know, we always care about our neighbors, our neighbors to the south, looking to improve the lives of their people. This is better than aid. This is creating jobs in Colombia by trading with the U.S. as well.

Q Was Secretary Paulson -- I mean, did you meet with the secretary? What was his message?

SEN. MCCONNELL: (Off mike.)

Q I could keep asking. (Laughter.)

Q Senator Hutchison, you looked like you had something to say about the --

SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, let me just say Secretary Paulson was invited to our policy lunch and we had a very good briefing on many of the measures that are being taken by the administration to try to alleviate this recession. And so I think there were a number of issues raised and concerns raised and among them was the price of gasoline. And the issue of not having the supply that we could produce in our country was brought up in several measures. I think the ethanol mandate is also something being discussed now as another rise in consumer prices is being seen in our food markets as well as our gas stations.

So it was quite a good discussion and the secretary was well- received.

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