Is half a loaf better than none at all?
That's seemingly the choice before the nation's embattled steel industry. Earlier this week, the Senate shot down quotas on foreign steel shipments, however it voted to create a $1.5 billion loan fund for U.S. steel, oil and gas producers hurt by fallen prices.The latter, we submit, is a stop-gap measure.
Why should the Senate make a hard decision today that it can stave off with another government loan program?
Opponents of steel quotas fear the United States will trigger a trade war and cut off U.S. exports from foreign markets. Quotas would throw a wrench in the machinery of free trade.
Free trade is good, so long as it is fair trade.
Foreign steel makers are heavily subsidized by their governments. They pay lower wages and do not have to meet the same environmental standards as U.S. producers.
Many steel makers are in a fight for their very survival. Earlier this year, Geneva Steel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of teeming debt and falling prices.
The U.S. steel industry blames the foreign shipments for bankruptcies at three such U.S. companies and for thousands of layoffs. Steel jobs, the economic backbone of many communities, are dwindling in number.
Yet, President Clinton has refused to impose stronger sanctions to block foreign shipments. Absent that, industry representatives sought out quotas, which were rejected by lawmakers.
This problem did not develop overnight, there is no snap solution to solving it. And yet, the Senate appears to be postponing the inevitable.
As Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. observed, a loan program "is a helping hand, a short-term assistance program, but it does not address the underlying problem."