Today’s Q for O’s WH – 2/11/2009

By Lindsey Ellerson

Feb 11, 2009 3:58pm

Please note: background on some of the issues addressed in my question at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ press briefing today can be read HERE.

TAPPER:  The president this morning, Robert, talked about the fact that the CEO of Caterpillar had praised the idea of a stimulus package and how the company had recently announced 20,000 layoffs and if the stimulus package passes, he’ll be able to rehire some of those people. And the CEO, according to local press in Peoria, is going to deliver that message to the president tomorrow, although I guess the president already got it somehow.

GIBBS: Text. (Laughter and press room chatter)

TAPPER: Caterpillar has also opposed the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package.  Recently, a spokesman for Caterpillar said that they were like "snake oil." And I know that the final package is still being finalized, but I’m wondering, that and the fact that Caterpillar, probably one of the companies that most supports the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and says that the stalling of that on Capitol Hill — and I believe the president also has expressed concern about that free trade agreement — that that stalling is basically sending a message to businesses in Colombia, "Please buy Canadian products, not American."

Does Caterpillar’s support for the Colombian Free Trade Agreement and opposition to the Buy America provisions under the same idea of what’s good for their workers is good business, would that have any effect on the president’s thinking?

GIBBS:  On those two issues?

TAPPER: Yes, Colombia and "Buy American."

GIBBS:  I’ll talk to the president about that.  I think his concerns with the Colombian Free Trade Agreement and — as it relates to labor and environmental standards being a core part of those agreements, I think, have been laid out extensively in the campaign. Obviously, you heard the president speak about a week ago about ensuring that while we have strong buy-America laws on our books that — that should be heeded as the law, there are also — they also have to be done in a way in this bill — the provision has to be done in a way so as not to spark a larger trade disagreement at a time of economic peril. And I think that’s why the provisions that were in, I believe, the Senate legislation ultimately included those — a strong provision to buy American but also to do that in a way that didn’t violate existing trade agreements.

The president believed that that was a necessary and positive compromise that allowed those provisions to be in the bill.  And I presume that without speaking director for Caterpillar, they found that to be a positive development, as well. They did communicate to the White House a reevaluation of their employment situation based on what they see as a big investment that could be coming shortly to put Americans back to work and to put particularly those workers in Peoria and downstate Illinois area, in particular, back to work. We’re encouraged by that development.  And you saw the president today at an infrastructure project in Northern Virginia that with the right kind of plan, presumably, is something that can — phases three and four of that project can begin work and put people back to work.

I think in many ways we are hopeful that businesses across this country, in particular, will evaluate the positive impacts of a recovery and reinvestment plan and, hopefully, plan their businesses accordingly.  We’ve certainly seen alternative energy companies, wind developers that have taken positively to what potentially could be a final agreement. We hope that, that’s also true for construction companies, like, Caterpillar.  And it’s why we believe that with the right plan, we can get this economy moving again by putting people back to work quickly.

TAPPER:  Just a follow-up, I’m sorry.  Wouldn’t the Colombian Free Trade Agreement — since that’s not like — unlike some other past trade agreements — that’s not one that American workers are necessarily worried about costing American jobs.  Opposition to it has more to do with human rights in Colombia and environmental concerns. Wouldn’t re-thinking that free trade agreement — given the state of this economy — also be a logical step?
GIBBS:  Well, what I don’t want to do is conflate the reinvestment and recovery plan directly with the president’s thinking on an individual trade agreement.  I think the concerns that he and others have are still valid around that trade agreement.  And certainly don’t want discussions on that to get in the way of a recovery and reinvestment plan moving ahead quickly.

- jpt


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