The United States Department of Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, Thursday appeared before the Committee on Energy and Commerce to discuss American competitiveness and the challenges that currently face American companies. The needs of American manufacturers and how to maintain competitiveness, while keeping jobs within U. S. borders, were the main topics of the hearing.
In his opening statement, Secretary Gutierrez spoke about the “pro prosperity agenda” put forth by the Bush administration, focusing on the current strength of the American economy.
“Our GDP per capita is among the highest in the world,” said Gutierrez. “Our economic growth is the fastest in the world, with GDP numbers that were revised this morning to 5.6%.”
The Secretary noted that more Americans are working today than ever before, citing low unemployment numbers. He did, however, identify several challenges moving forward, including immigration enforcement, maintaining innovative leadership, and creating an open and level playing field for businesses.
“Free and fair trade supports millions of American jobs, increases consumer choice, and is the foundation of peace and prosperity,” Gutierrez said.
Committee Chairman, Representative Joe Barton's (R-TX) opening statement highlighted the goals of the Committee during the past two years.
“We wanted to enact tort reform to improve the competition of U.S. manufacturers and we wanted to control healthcare costs, which make up a disproportionate share of manufacturer costs,” Barton said. “This committee is working hard to achieve those goals.”
Ranking Committee Member, John Dingell (D-MI), opening statement focused on lost manufacturing jobs in his state.
“Since 2001, Michigan has lost 235,000 jobs, most were high-paying manufacturing jobs,” Dingell said. He also noted that the jobs that have been created to replace those jobs have an average pay of 21% less than those originally held in the state.
Dingell also noted the stress placed on small and mid-sized manufacturers and the assistance they require to remain competitive in a global market.
“Small and mid-sized manufacturers are an integral part of the domestic economy and they need assistance to compete effectively on the world stage,” Dingell said. “Many parts and components are manufactured by small businesses.”
Dingell’s opening statement also focused on the rising costs of healthcare and the need for a fair wage for American workers.
Representative Jan Schakowsky's (D-IL) touched on what she thinks needs to be done to help foster global competition in the manufacturing industry.
“Over 2.8 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000 and we need to do what we can to encourage and reward corporations that commit to America’s economic growth and create jobs for American workers,” said Schakowsky.
Schakowsky asked the Secretary for his support on her recently introduced Patriot Corporations of America Act, which would reward American companies for keeping jobs in the U.S., contributing a portion of employee payroll to a portable pension fund and covering at least 70% of healthcare costs. The corporation would then be eligible for various incentives including preferential consideration for government contracts and a reduction in taxes.
Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), meanwhile, commented on the need for support of American manufacturing.
“Our country cannot have a strong economy without a strong manufacturing base,” Stupak said. “However, it seems that this administration has turned its back on manufacturing.”
Stupak also asked the Secretary for attention to the current trade policy and alleged currency manipulation by countries like China and India, as well as consideration of skyrocketing healthcare costs for American manufacturers.
During the question and answer period, Representative Stupak focused on manufacturing issues affecting Michigan, asking repeatedly why the President will not meet with the “big three” American auto makers.
“I have no access to the President’s calendar, but I do know that the President is concerned about every single job in the county,” the Secretary responded. “He is extremely concerned to keep employment growing.”
Stupak followed up by asking about a comment the president made in reference to GM needing to build “relevant cars” and the need to be competitive.
The Secretary responded that he was unaware of that statement, but stressed that the President is urging all businesses to improve their competitiveness and ensure that their workers are well trained.
“Everyone needs to be more competitive in the future,” Gutierrez said. “I wouldn’t single any one industry out.”
Stupak then turned to current issues with the WTO and the low number of complaints filed by the United States.
The Secretary said that two complaints have been filed against China with the WTO; one relating to auto part manufacturing and one related to semiconductors. He also mentioned that there are more pending anti-dumping orders against China.
“We want more market access, we want our intellectual property protected and we want transparency,” the Secretary said. “We believe that is the path to export more.”