By and  on February 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — Democrats are forging ahead with injecting more money into the economy, passing a $410 billion spending bill in the House on Wednesday on the heels of the massive economic stimulus package, underscoring President Obama’s pledge Tuesday night that the federal government needs to lead the nation out of recession.

Democrats are also poised to tackle key issues for the apparel and textile industry, such as monitoring imports from China and Vietnam, and banning Mexican trucks from U.S. highways, in provisions tucked into the House spending measure, which funds government agencies through September.

Obama, who is set to release his first budget today for the 2010 fiscal year, promised in his speech to Congress to make significant cuts in the government budget for next year and to slash projected deficits in half by the end of his first term. The president’s economic recovery blueprint focuses on creating jobs, in addition to a major overhaul of the nation’s health care and financial systems, investing in education and developing alternative energy sources.

The new spending bill, which passed on a 245 to 178 vote, provides an 8 percent increase for government agencies, including the Commerce, State, Labor and Treasury Departments, and the U.S. Trade Representatives’ office. The legislation, which next goes to the Senate, sparked an outcry among some apparel-importing groups over a provision that urges the Obama administration to resurrect a Vietnam apparel-monitoring program and expand it to include apparel and textile imports from China. The domestic textile industry, which has lost thousands of jobs in the past decade, has lobbied hard for new restraints on imports from China and Vietnam, two major U.S. suppliers.

“It’s very valuable, especially in relation to expanding this program to China, because of China’s long history of illegal pricing activity,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “The value is in the fact that it helps inject discipline” into pricing.

Apparel importers are operating in a quota-free environment for the first time in three years, since a bilateral agreement restricting 34 categories of apparel and textile imports from China expired last year. A Vietnam apparel-monitoring program, administered by the Commerce Department to evaluate whether goods were being sold in the U.S. below market value or less than the cost of manufacturing, known as dumping, expired in January.

Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said, “There is absolutely no factual basis for such monitoring. It is nothing more than unjustified, WTO-inconsistent, useless protectionism that won’t bring a single job back to the United States.”

Obama said in his speech Tuesday that he wants to “avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe.”

In a separate action, Obama announced his third pick for Commerce Secretary, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke. The Commerce Department oversees everything from the collection of economic data and the census to imports and exports. The department also chairs the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements that is responsible for factors impacting textile trade policy and for implementing textile trade agreements.

Also on Wednesday, three bills were introduced in Congress aimed at cracking down on organized retail crime, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates costs retailers $30 billion a year. Collectively, the bills redefine organized retail crime as a federal crime and impose new requirements on online auction sites like eBay, ranging from requiring them to halt the sale of goods deemed stolen to imposing duties on online marketplaces to collect information for law enforcement.

Also on Wednesday, Republicans reintroduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act, a bill that would eliminate the ability of workers to form a union when a majority sign cards in support of one. Under current law, most employers require employees and unions to conduct a secret ballot election to form a union, but employers do have an option to allow a card-check system to determine the outcome. The bill is meant as a peremptory strike in anticipation of Democrats reintroducing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize a union through the card-check system.

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