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Roskam – An Idea of Obama: Stimulus that is Both Sustainable and Free

March 05, 2009

In the aftermath of the approval of an $800-billionspending bill masquerading as economic stimulus, many of us in Congressconcerned about the exponential growth of the national debt arewondering if U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has even slightlyconsidered common-sense policy alternatives before squandering precioustaxpayer dollars. 

President Barack Obama’s recent visit to a Caterpillar plant inDownstate East Peoria highlighted the fact that the answer to the abovequestion is a resounding “no.”

Caterpillar recently shed about 20,000 jobs amid the globalconstruction slowdown. Unlike many competitors, Caterpillar hasretained much of its manufacturing capacity in the United States,providing high-paying jobs in Illinois. This despite the fact that alarge part of its sales come from outside the United States.    

Many of Caterpillar’s largest customers are in Colombia, such as thePribbenow mine, home to some 250 Caterpillar machines, including 75D-11 track-type tractors. There are more of these tractors, which arethe largest in the world, in Pribbenow than anywhere else. They are allmanufactured in Illinois. 

Unfortunately, Ms. Pelosi has chosen to convince the American people ofthe stimulative impact of programs to save the habitat of a SanFrancisco Bay area salt marsh mouse instead of saving thousands of jobsin Illinois with one vote in the House of Representatives. Were theColombia Free Trade Agreement to pass Congress, it would remove tariffson American goods sold in Colombia and lower the price of Caterpillar’sequipment by 10%, making it easier for Colombian customers to affordmore equipment and allowing Caterpillar to retain some of itsmanufacturing workforce.

Caterpillar pays an average of $200,000 duty for each large off-highwaytruck it sells in Colombia—that is about five jobs lost to completelyunnecessary tariffs.

Another example of how to save jobs lies with the automotive industry.Passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would eliminate the tariffon U.S. autos and lower the price of American automobiles in Colombiaby 35%, at no cost to the taxpayer. The Chicago area is home to dozensof manufacturers that supply parts to the Big Three in Detroit.

For the past two years, as our economy has shed jobs, Ms. Pelosi hasrefused to allow the Colombia FTA to come to a vote. The agreementwould save or create thousands of U.S. jobs—many in Illinois.Currently, 91% of Colombian goods enter our country tariff-free.

I hope that Mr. Obama’s visit to Caterpillar, one of the companies thatstands to gain the most from passage of the Colombia FTA, signals a newwillingness by Democrats to give this trade agreement a chance to saveAmerican jobs.