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Trade Could Cure Jobless Ills, Bush Says

Politics: President courts public support for Senate bill to give him more negotiating power with foreign countries.


NEW ORLEANS — Surrounded by the longshoremen of one of America's busiest ports, President Bush expressed new worries about unemployment Tuesday and prescribed a regimen of aggressive foreign trade to expand job opportunities and lift the nation's sagging economy.

"I'm worried about the loss of jobs," Bush said, telling the workers--who needed little convincing--"if you trade more, there are more jobs available for hard-working Americans."

In courting public support for a bill pending in the Senate that would grant him added leeway to negotiate trade pacts, Bush is doing what his two immediate predecessors also did: remind workers in the industrial and agricultural heartlands that millions of jobs rely on open trade, even as cheaper manufacturing costs in distant lands may siphon some employment away from the United States.

It is an issue of growing concern as the administration pushes for the expanded authority to negotiate trade agreements at a time when unemployment in the United States is at a six-year high.

Bush's speech in New Orleans to about 1,000 people gathered on a large wharf capped a two-day swing in which he traced the route of farm products--from the heartland, where John Deere makes huge farm machinery in East Moline, Ill., to the fertile soils of Missouri and then to the port where various agricultural products are loaded aboard ships for overseas sales.

"One of the reasons I'm traveling down the spine of America and on the mighty Mississippi is because I want to remind our fellow citizens how important trade is," Bush said.

"It's important to these workers that we trade. The people who are loading these ships load them because we're trading around the world. The farmers who are selling products can sell more if we trade. And if the farmers sell more of their products, we can sell more of the machines made in Moline, Ill."

The trade-promotion trip is part of a travel schedule Bush has undertaken in anticipation of themes and issues he will touch upon in his Jan. 29 State of the Union address.

With considerable ardor, Bush urged the Senate on Tuesday to "get me a bill I can sign," as the crowd broke into sustained applause.

The so-called fast-track legislation was approved last month on a 215-214 vote in the House and sent to the Senate. The Senate traditionally has been more favorable to measures intended to remove tariffs and other trade barriers, but the fast-track measure faces a potential obstacle.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has promised an early vote, but only if the Senate also considers new assistance for workers in industries hurt by imports.

Pressing the Senate to act--and underscoring his focus on the economy--Bush said: "This isn't a Republican issue, this isn't a Democrat issue. Trade is a jobs issue."

The president was still sniffling from a head cold, but he seemed to have recovered from his brief fainting spell while watching football on TV at the White House on Sunday afternoon.

He continued joking about it in public, telling this food-loving city that he dined Monday night at Antoine's, a famous New Orleans restaurant. He added: "I didn't have any pretzels."

What he did have, among other things, was baked Alaska. "I forgot how good the food is. I'm going to have to spend about a week working off that baked Alaska," Bush said.

Because of his head cold, the president uncharacteristically skipped his daily exercise routine for two straight days, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

He said Bush also showed him a slight indent on the bridge of his nose, caused presumably by the frame of his glasses when he fell Sunday and hit his head either on a coffee table or the floor or both.

The fall also left a noticeable bruise on the president's left cheek.


Times staff writers Nick Anderson and James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this report.

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