Senate takes on trade, jobs

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October 14th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The U.S. Senate focused on creating jobs at the Capitol this week. They turned down a deal the President said would create almost two million jobs, but others said would be ineffective. And they passed trade agreements some say will create thousands of jobs and others say will outsource jobs. Where did Nebraska’s Senators fall in all of this? Robyn Wisch has the story for today’s roundup of Your Government at Work.

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“Today, the Senate will help create jobs in Nebraska,” announced Nebraska’s Democratic Senator Ben Nelson in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “We’ll do that by approving three much-awaited trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia.”

Sen. Nelson was one of two Democrats in the Senate who voted against President Obama's jobs bill. (Photo courtesy Senator's office)

Nelson said the trade agreements, which have been stalled in Congress since the Bush administration and passed later Wednesday, will create more than 1,100 jobs in Nebraska in the agricultural industry alone.

The agreement with South Korea is reported to be the largest trade deal since the NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. That worried some senators who voted against the agreements, saying they would lead to outsourcing and a loss of jobs, particularly in manufacturing. But Nelson said the agreements will remove barriers to trade such as tariffs and make Nebraska’s agricultural products more competitive in those markets. And he found some bipartisan support from his counterpart in the Senate: Republican Mike Johanns.

“They will assist to level the playing field to allow us to sell our products into these three marketplaces,” Johanns said during his regular conference call with reporters on Thursday. “The most significant, without a shadow of a doubt, is the one that was approved for South Korea. That is a significant market, it is a successful economy. It shows every sign of continued success. We’re going to do very, very well with that trade agreement.”

And on that issue, Nebraska’s Senators found some common ground with President Barack Obama. During a White House ceremony welcoming the South Korean president Lee Myung-bak Thursday, Obama said the trade agreement with that country will have far-reaching benefits for Americans in many fields.

Sen. Johanns said the President's jobs bill "never had a chance." (Photo courtesy Senator's office)

“For farmers and ranchers here in the United States, it will increase exports of agricultural products, from aerospace to electronics, it will increase American manufacturing exports, including those produced by our small businesses.”

But on the other jobs-related item on Washington’s agenda this week, President Obama did not find any support from the two Nebraska Senators on his jobs bill.

“The bill just never had much chance,” Johanns said. “It just looked so much like the first stimulus. If you think about the first stimulus, $1 trillion, massive deficits, unemployment went higher, and an economy that continues to struggle. This was going to be the legislation that solved all of those problems. It did not.”

Senator Nelson also voted against the President’s bill, which went down in the Senate on a vote of 50-49. Nelson was one of two Democrats to vote against it. And he said he did so because now is not the time to raise taxes for new government spending.

“What the President had offered in the beginning was just the start and the opportunity for other plans to develop,” Nelson said. “I do believe there’ll be some other plans that will develop, but if they involve new spending, and as a result of that new taxes, or raising taxes, I think they’re dead on arrival.”

President Obama says he "won't take no for an answer" and will keep pushing Congress to pass his jobs bill. (Photo courtesy White House)

But President Obama said this week there is no GOP plan that would create as many jobs as his bill would – up to 1.9 million he says independent economists have projected. At a Hispanic Heritage Forum in Washington, the President said Senators who voted against the bill, have “said no to more jobs for teachers, no to more jobs for cops and firefighters, no to more jobs for construction workers and veterans, no to tax cuts for small business owners and middle class Americans.”

The President has indicated he may be willing to break his bill into smaller pieces that the Senate can vote on. And both Nelson and Johanns said they would be open to that idea. But whatever they agree to, it will likely look less like stimulus spending, and more like regulation easing. Both also said they were receptive to setting up an infrastructure bank – an idea that would put a few billion dollars aside to fix roads and bridges around the country. That would likely use existing funds and not new sources.

In the meantime, the fight will go on. The President said he’s not giving up. “Not this time, not with so many Americans out of work, not with so many folks in your communities hurting. We will not take no for an answer.”

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