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Gerard touts work of Obama, Demos

by David Cole
| April 12, 2010 9:00 PM

WORLEY — United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard on Saturday night praised the work of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, and predicted that if they continue to come forward with positive programs that put Americans back to work, the party will be in good shape come November.

“We came within inches of being in a great depression,” he said. “And if we’d left it to Republicans we would be. People should never, ever stop reminding the country of that.”

Gerard was in town for the annual Art Manley Democracy Dinner at the Coeur d’Alene Casino and Resort, and was the keynote speaker. About 210 people attended, and 240 tickets were sold for the event.

Gerard blasted Republicans.

As the general election nears, he said, “It’s going to be very clear, that a party that hates government, and a party that hates progress, and a party that continuously stood up for one year for the (health) insurance industry, a party that is standing up now every day for Wall Street,” is not a party that Democrats should let take power, whether in state or national elections.

The Democratic Party’s accomplishments in the last 18 months have come despite Republican opposition in everything, he said.

He lauded the efforts of President Barack Obama to forge ahead on health care reform.

“Know this: Four committees in the House of Representatives worked on health care,” Gerard said. “Three committees in the Senate worked on health care. The House of Representatives voted on health care. The Senate in total voted on health care more than once. The health care debate went on for the better part of a year.”

While Democrats were trying to fix one of the biggest problems in the country, the party didn’t get help from Republicans in Congress, who now vow to repeal the health care reform legislation.

Gerard dared Republicans to advocate appealing the legislation, which he said protects Americans with pre-existing medical conditions from discrimination, allows young people in the country to stay on their parents’ health insurance longer, and eliminates a drug-coverage gap that affects elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries, a gap commonly known as the “doughnut hole.”

“I think we should challenge them to run on repealing health care so we can kick their ass,” Gerard said.

While praising Obama and Democrats, he criticized the “Tea Baggers,” calling them an angry mob, and took a jab at the “know-nothing hairpins on Fox News.”

“Why didn’t the Republicans get upset when George W. Bush left a trillion-dollar deficit on the presidential desk wrapped in a bow for Barack Obama to find?” Gerard said.

He said the Bush administration left plenty else to be angry about, but nothing was heard from “Tea Baggers” or Republican talking heads on Fox News.

“We lost five million jobs in the last 18 months of George Bush’s reign,” he said. “I’ll tell you what my wife said, she said: ‘George Bush’s presidency was the economic equivalent of a home invasion, and on the way out of the home the home invader set fire to the house.’”

Gerard said 90 percent of those five million jobs are gone as a result of the financial turmoil on Wall Street.

“The economic polluters that caused this mess should be made to step up and help clean it up,” Gerard said. He called for improved regulations, “so that we’ll never have to live through what we lived through this time.”

In closing his speech, Gerard said America must manufacture more products.

“To create real wealth in this country, you have to go and make things,” he said. “You have to take raw material, energy, ingenuity, creativity, real engineering, not financial engineering, and go and take that raw material and turn it into something of value and then sell it or trade it.”

He said the U.S. now is running an annual trade deficit of between $700 billion and $800 billion.

“We’re doing that because we’re giving away our ability to make things,” Gerard said. “And we’ve given it away because as we’ve deregulated Wall Street, as we’ve deregulated safety and health, we’ve also deregulated international trade.”

Now, whether in Coeur d’Alene or Pittsburgh, businesses have to compete with other countries, “when you’re not competing on the same playing field,” he said. “And because of that we’ve lost our manufacturing.”

He said China looks poised to be a major player in building high-speed rail lines in California.

He said United Steelworkers International has been busy in Washington, D.C.

“What we’re saying to them is very easy and very clear,” he said. “If you’re going to spend taxpayer dollars to put Americans back to work, then you’re going to spend those taxpayer dollars buying products that are made in America, not products that are imported.”