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Bush Visits Steel Mill

President Bush says he is concerned about the health of the American steel industry. The president spoke to steelworkers near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The President went to a steel plant in the small Pennsylvania town, West Mifflin. It is an area that has been hard hit by the economic slowdown. And a surge of foreign imports has made the situation even worse.

Industry and labor leaders say American steel companies have become victims of unfair competition. President Bush has launched a formal investigation, but has yet to take a stand on pending legislation that would penalize countries including Japan, Brazil and South Korea that subsidize exports to the United States.

There is pressure on the White House to support the measure. But in his speech to workers at a steel company-sponsored picnic, Mr. Bush made no mention of the bill. Instead, he talked in general about the importance of the steel industry.

"If you are worried about the security of the country and you become over-reliant on foreign sources of steel, it could easily affect the capacity of our military to be well supplied," said Mr. Bush.

Leo W. Gerard, president of the Steelworkers' Union, stood with Mr. Bush on the speaker's podium in West Mifflin. He thanked the president for his attention to the problem, but pressed for more action.

"Mr. President, I want to be respectful. But I also want to be sincere and honest," said Mr. Gerard. "At this plant today, Irvin Works, from now until the end of the year, this plant will work with reduced capacity of up to 40 percent because of unfair, illegally traded and dumped imports."

Union leaders like Leo Gerard have been looking for common ground with the Bush White House in recent months. The labor movement in the United States has a long history of support for the Democratic Party. But labor officials know they will need friends in the Republican Bush White House if they want federal action on issues of importance to their members. In his comments, Mr. Gerard was firm but polite.

"We are proud to produce the best steel, the most productive steel, the cleanest steel anywhere in the world," he said. "But yet with all that today, within the last twelve months, we have had 23 steel companies go into bankruptcy."

The president listened, but made no mention of new initiatives in his brief speech. Instead, he went into a defense of his economic policies, saying they are helping the manufacturing sector and American workers.

"We are paying down record amounts of debt to ease pressure on interest rates. We have got a trade policy that is going to have a level playing field as a component. And the other thing we are doing on an administrative level, is we are sending money back to the people that pay the bills in America," said the president.

His reference to his tax cut plan came at a time of growing political warfare in Washington over the shrinking federal budget surplus. The President says the cuts are needed to help stimulate the economy. But Democrats say reducing taxes when revenues are already going down could wipe out the budget surplus and is fiscally irresponsible.