By  on January 30, 2006

WASHINGTON — The ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus, said Wednesday that he would introduce seven legislative initiatives on issues from international trade to health care that are intended to make the U.S. more competitive and preserve jobs.

Returning from a trip to China and India, Baucus (D., Mont.), said during a speech at the National Press Club that "the U.S. economy is losing some of its competitive advantage."

He pointed to rising health care costs, a record deficit in the ratio of foreign debt to Gross Domestic Product and "politically motivated trade agreements with very small countries of little economic significance that create few jobs at home," as indicators that U.S. economic strength is weakening.

However, Baucus will have a difficult time moving any legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate.

On the trade front, Baucus said he would propose creating a chief trade prosecutor position in the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to oversee investigating and prosecuting trade enforcement cases. The job would require Senate confirmation.

"When our companies work to invest and trade abroad, we will work to make sure these markets are open, that they stay open and that our partners play by the rules," Baucus said.

His bill would also require the USTR to work with Congress to identify "priority" barriers to trade and investment each year and "address them expeditiously." The agency releases an annual report on foreign trade barriers, but it is often criticized because of the lack of concrete action or results.

Baucus urged making trade adjustment assistance more accessible to all trade-displaced workers, including service employees and those who lose their jobs because of competition with China and India.

The senator also raised the issue of China's currency policy, which many lawmakers and business groups claim is undervalued by as much as 40 percent because it is pegged to the U.S. dollar. He said he warned Chinese leaders that Congress would move to pass legislation quickly if they did not soon address the current trade deficit and do not allow China's currency to appreciate more against the dollar.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) have broad bipartisan support for a bill that would impose a 27.5 percent tariff on all imports from China if it does not revalue its currency within a set time frame. Schumer said he would ask the Senate to bring the bill to a vote early this year if China did not make more progress in revaluing its currency.

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