The labor secretary was stumping for the Republican candidate in the 17th Congressional District race.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
AKRON -- Even though the Bush administration has granted more than 700 exemptions to foreign steel tariffs, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said the policy has proven to be beneficial.
When asked Tuesday if the exemptions have weakened the steel tariff policy, Chao said, "We don't think so at all. It must be kept in mind that the president took a very, very courageous act to enact the tariffs and the overall impact remains undiminished."
Backing Womer Benjamin
Chao was in Akron stumping for Ann Womer Benjamin, the Republican candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat.
With them was U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, a Navarre Republican who chairs the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, with annual discretionary spending of about $100 billion.
Chao and Regula are the latest in a line of prominent Republicans endorsing Womer Benjamin of Aurora for the vacant congressional seat last held by James A. Traficant Jr. National Republicans list the 17th Congressional District as one of the seats they are targeting.
Defends trade record
Chao defended the Bush administration's trade record, saying it has achieved a number of goals, including the implementation of steel tariffs, and is a friend of labor.
"These issues were in front of the previous administration and they didn't do anything," Chao said.
President Bush imposed the tariffs of 8 percent to 30 percent, effective March 20, for a three-year period on certain steel products to give the U.S. steel industry, devastated by the flood of cheap foreign steel into this country, time to reorganize and become more competitive.
But some U.S. steel companies have accused the Bush administration of buckling to foreign pressure on the tariffs.
Timothy J. Ryan of Niles, Womer Benjamin's Democratic opponent, said the exemptions have made the steel tariff look "like Swiss cheese" because there are so many holes in it.
Womer Benjamin said her connections to Chao and Regula would prove beneficial to the 17th District -- which includes portions of Mahoning, Trumbull, Summit and Portage counties -- if she is elected to Congress. Chao and Regula could help steer federal dollars to the district for job training and retention, and continuing education programs, Womer Benjamin said.
"This area needs action instead of political talk," Chao said. "Ann will attract new jobs to this area."
Chao was asked why the Mahoning Valley lags behind the rest of the nation in economic recovery, but gave no specifics. Instead, Chao said there are a lot of opportunities provided by the U.S. Department of Labor for those who have lost their jobs and are seeking new ones, including retraining and education programs.