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YOUNGSTOWN Voinovich predicts rough road for steel



Published: Fri, August 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The senator also predicted a prescription drug plan will be part of the federal Medicare system by 2002.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- It's going to get worse for the steel industry before it gets better, said U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, who has been at the forefront of the push to stop illegal steel dumping.

During a Thursday meeting with writers from The Vindicator, the Republican senator said it is not too late to save the ailing steel industry, although he does see the industry thinning out over the next few years because of an overproduction of product and illegal foreign steel dumping.

"It's going to be a rough road for the next couple of years for the steel industry," he said.

Bush helping: Voinovich said the Bush administration has done a lot to help the steel industry, including considering the use of a rare federal trade law that allows the government to impose high tariffs and strict quotas to reduce the amount of foreign steel in this country. Voinovich said certain foreign steel companies are selling their product at below production costs in an attempt to force domestic producers out of business.

"This administration has done more about the steel crisis than any other in recent memory," Voinovich said. "This administration is giving this an enormous amount of attention. Right now, they're negotiating with people, telling them this stuff has to stop."

Even with the steel crisis, Voinovich said he was surprised that CSC Ltd., a Warren steelmaker, was forced to declare bankruptcy and close.

"I can't figure out how CSC happened," he said. "It looked very competitive."

During Thursday's meeting, Voinovich said the Lordstown General Motors complex has a good chance of remaining open in the future as the producer of a line of small cars, but there are a few catches.

Voinovich said GM officials have told him the Lordstown plant needs to bring its production costs down if it wants the car line.

"If they can do that and there's a market for smaller automobiles, they're in good shape," he said. "They've got a good chance, but they've got to bring the costs down. If they don't, they're going to lose it. An incentive package [to keep the company here] is important, but the productivity is the most important factor."

Drug plan: The Ohio senator also predicted a prescription drug plan will be part of the federal Medicare system by the 2002 congressional election.

"We need to reform Medicare because it is not organized for the world as it is today," he said. "It was designed for 1965, and the world has changed dramatically since then. Prescription drugs should be part of the system. The pressure is there to do something."

Voinovich said the federal government needs to look at other energy sources, particularly nuclear energy, in light of the recent power problems affecting the country.

"We are far too reliant on foreign oil," he said. "We are in serious trouble with growing fundamentalism in the Muslim world gaining more influence in the Middle East. We've got a serious situation. The less reliant we are on foreign oil, the better."

Voinovich, known as one of the most vocal members of Congress in support of federal debt reduction, called President Bush's tax relief program that gives $300 or $600 to taxpayers a wise move.

Voinovich also favors the privatization of Social Security as long as those participating are required to invest the money they would have put into the program.

skolnick@vindy.com




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