WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House on Wednesday passed a bill to extend aid to U.S. manufacturers as well as workers who were laid off due to cheap imports and jobs that moved abroad.
The House approved the job-protecting and job-creating legislation by voice vote and sent it to the Senate.
The legislation would continue a retraining program for workers laid off due to international trade, and would lower import duties on nearly 300 products used by U.S. manufacturers.
Community colleges and other educational institutions would play a key role in the plan by developing retraining programs.
The bill also would extend, through June 30, 2012, a trade program for Andean countries as an alternative to drug production and trafficking. The 1991 program applies to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The main purpose of the program, however, is to preserve U.S. jobs. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said nearly 228,000 workers took advantage of the program so far this year. He estimated the legislation would support 90,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., said Republicans support the bill because it lowers taxes, makes U.S. manufacturers more competitive, allows the private sector to create jobs and is fully funded.
Many of the lower duties are for industrial chemicals, and other materials used by the U.S. textile, apparel, metals and petroleum exploration industries. However, among protected products are some plasma flat panel displays, golf club components, golf umbrellas, color video monitors, camel hair waste, cashmere goat hair and Christmas tree lamps.
The National Association of Manufacturers supported the bill, calling it "one of the most important short-term actions Congress can take to preserve and expand good American jobs, cut the costs of doing business in the United States and boost American manufacturing exports." The NAM said large and small U.S. manufacturers use the program to obtain materials not available in the United States. Unions also backed the legislation.
The tariffs would be kept low for three years. Each tariff request is reviewed by congressional committees, the executive branch and the independent U.S. International Trade Commission to ensure there is no opposition from U.S. manufacturers who make similar or competitive products.