NEW YORK – While pressing ahead on efforts to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power, President Bush on Saturday urged Americans to maintain their focus on boosting the economy here at home.
"Confronting Iraq is an urgent matter of national security," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "America’s economic security, especially the creation of good jobs, is also an urgent matter, requiring presidential and congressional action."
Bush said this need to focus on the country’s economy was the reason he forced the Pacific Coast ports to open this week after they were shut down due to labor disputes. The protests were estimated to cost the country $1-2 billion a day in lost business and jobs, as a domino effect struck other regions of the nation’s economy.
Bush was the first president in 25 years to invoke the emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 when he asked a federal court to reopen the 29 ports and impose an 80-day truce between dockworkers and shipping companies.
The lockout was called after contract talks with the 10,500-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union halted in September due to disagreements over how to modernize West Coast ports.
The union says new technology will cost its members some jobs now, and wants new positions created by the technology to be union-covered. The shippers say the union shouldn't dictate who controls the jobs.
"The American people have been working hard to bring our economy back from recession," Bush said. "We simply cannot afford to have hundreds of billions of dollars a year in potential manufacturing and agriculture trade sitting idle."
Bush said he expects port operators and worker representatives to "bargain in good faith and reach a final agreement as soon as possible."
Another step to take to put "American’s hard hats back on the job," Bush said, is for Congress to pass a terrorism insurance bill, which lawmakers are close to an agreement on.
"The lack of terrorism insurance has hurt the growth of this economy and cost Americans jobs," Bush said, adding that the lack of it has delayed or canceled more than $15 billion in real estate transactions while more than 300,000 carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and other blue-collar workers like have been out of jobs.
"This terrorism insurance legislation will cost us nothing if we experience no further attacks," Bush said. "Yet it will mean thousands of new jobs for America’s hard hats and billions in new investment. And if we do face another attack, we’ll be able to compensate victims quickly and limit the economic damage to America."
House and Senate lawmakers agree that the government should bailout insurance companies that face massive payouts in the event of another terrorist attack. But sticking points remain over the ability to seek punitive damages from business owners who don't take adequate security precautions.
Bush urged lawmakers to put partisan differences aside on the terrorism insurance issue and take action quickly before Congress recesses.
"Our workers have waited a year," he said. "It’s past time for Congress to finish the job."