- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

The steel industry wants to ask President Bush a question about steel tariffs when he arrives in Pittsburgh today.

“I intend to ask him where he stands on this,” said Thomas Usher, chairman and chief executive of U.S. Steel Corp.

Mr. Bush implemented the tariffs in March 2002 but is on the verge of ending them early. He is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh around noon for a fund-raiser arranged partly by Mr. Usher and heavily attended by the steel industry. U.S. Steel is one of the nation’s biggest steel producers and one of the largest beneficiaries of the tariffs, which have raised prices on some foreign-made steel and aren’t set to expire for another 15 months.

But Mr. Bush might bow to the World Trade Organization, which last month ruled the tariffs illegal and allowed the European Union and other trading partners to retaliate against U.S.-made products.

Mr. Bush did not discuss the steel tariffs yesterday as he collected campaign cash in Dearborn, Mich., the heart of the Rust Belt. But White House officials said on the condition of anonymity that the president would approve a recommendation by advisers to lift most of the tariffs by Friday — several days before the European Union was expected to retaliate on $2.2 billion worth of U.S. exports.

Some officials said the president might leave a few tariffs in place for several months but that the main tariffs would be rescinded.

One official said the announcement would come after the fund-raiser in Pittsburgh, a stronghold of steel manufacturing.

Mr. Bush’s motorcade yesterday traveled past the Ford Motor Co., and many of the 500 supporters who attended an invitation-only fund-raiser work in the auto industry — one sector opposed to the tariffs.

The president officially is keeping options open.

“The president still has not made a decision. It remains under review. And beyond that, I don’t want to speculate on the timing of any decision,” spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“He’ll make a decision, as he previously did, based on what is right for the American people. The president, you’ve heard him talk about why he imposed these safeguards in the first place, and that was to help give the industry an opportunity to restructure, consolidate,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. Usher and Dan DiMicco, president and chief executive officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor, another top American steel producer, said during a conference call they had received no word from the administration on a decision.

“We don’t believe the president will leave the industry hanging,” Mr. DiMicco said.

“I’ll be quite anxious to see the president,” Mr. Usher said.

Steel industry and union officials have implied severe political fallout for the president if he rescinds the tariffs early.

“I think it’s bound to affect the political landscape in steel states, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mitch Hecht, director of government affairs for Cleveland-based International Steel Group. ISG has become one of the country’s top steel firms by buying bankrupt producers like LTV Steel, Acme Steel and Bethlehem Steel.

The United Steelworkers of America already has endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, for the 2004 election, and corporate officials appear disinclined to abandon the president.

Andrew Aloe, president of Shenango Inc., plans to attend today’s $2,000-per-ticket fund-raiser and said he is unlikely to change support based on the tariff decision.

His firm, based just outside Pittsburgh, supplies raw material to steel companies and relies on a healthy domestic industry as a customer base.

“Either way, I support the president. It would be an unfortunate decision if he decided not to keep tariffs in place. But I think there is more than this one issue,” Mr. Aloe said.

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