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As he defends U.S. jobs, Carnahan confirms he's looking for a new one

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 18, 2011 - U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, confirmed today he's "obviously taking a serious look'' at running in the soon-to-be-open 2nd congressional district, now that incumbent Republican Todd Akin is running for the U.S. Senate.

"We absolutely are looking at options,'' Carnahan said, noting that he also hasn't discounted a court challenge against the new Missouri redistricting map that eliminated his congressional district.

But U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland and the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House, emphasized that he is not offering Carnahan any advice on where to run -- and is staying out of any decision making.

Hoyer, who headlined a fundraising luncheon in Clayton for Carnahan, said that he had been asked "two months ago, long before any redistricting lines were drawn."

"I'm here because Congressman Carnahan is an outstanding member...and is somebody who wants to solve problems, which is the kind of members of Congress we need,'' Hoyer said. "You ought not to draw any implications one way or the other about my presence here."

Hoyer appeared to be referring to the fact that the new district lines put Carnahan in the same district as U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis. Hoyer said that Missouri was among the first states to complete its redistricting process, so "I can't think of other analogies right now'' where two Democratic incumbents are put into the same House district.

Hoyer and Carnahan responded to political questions after holding a "Make It in America'' forum aimed at highlighting Democratic efforts to rebuild the nation's dwindling manufacturing base. Their audience was about 60 area businesspeople, educators and union officials who gathered in the auto-repair training center at the Forest Park campus of St. Louis Community College.

Carnahan said that the St. Louis region lost 28 percent of its manufacturing jobs beween 2004 and 2010.

Aside from providing "solid middle-class jobs,'' Hoyer said that it also was important for national security that the United States have the capacity to produce key products, such as automobiles. Hoyer contended "it would have been a huge national security mistake'' if the federal government had allowed General Motors and Chrysler to fold in 2009. He noted that both are now making a profit.

Some in the audience said that "skills are being lost,'' as one woman put it, because specialty jobs -- such as tool and die -- are going overseas, and training for those jobs in the United States is declining.

If U.S. companies continue to send jobs abroad, Hoyer said, "inventors, innovators and developers will follow'' and go overseas as well. That's true for skill sets as well, the congressman said,.

Carnahan said that the United States needs to quit providing tax incentives for companies that send jobs overseas, and instead offer incentives for those who create jobs and products in the United States.

Hoyer emphasized that the "Make It in America'' campaign was "not a protectionist agenda. It is a competitive agenda. There's a difference."

Hoyer and Carnahan cited the decision by the World Trade Organization's appellate body that European countries have illegally subsidized Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer. The decision is particularly helpful to U.S.-based Boeing Co., a major manufacturer in St. Louis, although the WTO also ruled that Boeing got illegal subsidies. Both companies are appealing the rulings.

"This decision is a win for St. Louis businesses and workers," Carnahan said. "It's been a long time coming, but with this ruling, American companies finally get the fair rules of competition they deserve."

"I've said before that on a fair playing field, American workers and companies can compete and win against anyone in the world.  The WTO has ruled that Europe must comply within 6 months -- I hope they accept this decision and end all illegal practices so we can finally see what fair competition looks like."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.