President Bush visits Caterpillar plant

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During a recent visit to Caterpillar’s plant in East Peoria, Ill., President Bush said the engine and equipment manufacturer proves that U.S. companies can compete around the world successfully.

During his visit on Tuesday, Jan. 30, Bush lauded his administration’s free-trade agreements, saying they have benefited companies such as Caterpillar. Caterpillar exported more than $10 billion in products from the United States in 2006, a record for the company.

Bush also praised Caterpillar’s training and safety programs and health-care benefits. Bush said he was impressed by Caterpillar’s machines but more impressed by the American workers who build them.

Caterpillar’s East Peoria workers are represented by Local 974 of the United Auto Workers, which ratified a six-year agreement with Caterpillar in January 2005.

During his visit, Bush even drove a big Caterpillar tractor about 20 feet, warning reporters beforehand: “I’d advise you to stand back. I’m about to crank this sucker up.”

Bush hopes to rally public opinion on free trade this year because his power to negotiate such agreements, then present them to Congress for simple yes-or-no votes, is slated to expire July 1 if the Democrat-controlled Congress doesn’t renew it.

“The U.S. and global economy have benefited from the president’s pro-growth tax and free-trade policies, which have stimulated strong economic growth,” said Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Jim Owens, while introducing the president. “I thank Team Caterpillar for representing the competitive American spirit and positioning our company to take advantage of the opportunity created.”

Owens was one of 10 corporate executives who recently urged Bush to support mandatory federal limits on emissions of greenhouse gases, saying voluntary efforts aren’t enough to combat climate change. Caterpillar was the only equipment manufacturer represented in the group.

The executives argue that an emissions cap could be combined with a program allowing companies to trade their emissions allotments, as has been done for years to combat acid rain, to form an effective market-driven approach to the climate problem.

The executives made their position known on the eve of Bush’s most recent State of the Union speech. In that speech, Bush made no such call for a federal climate mandate, emphasizing incentives and voluntary measures instead.

Owens and other Caterpillar executives donated $33,200 to Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center also reported that in the 2006 elections, Caterpillar executives, employees or political action committees donated more than $500,000 to Illinois congressional candidates, mostly Republicans. An exception was $10,000 to the successful re-election campaign of freshman U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Democrat and free-trade advocate supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.