WASHINGTON – Democrats are pouncing on a series of stumbles by President Bush's economic team, claiming it's evidence the administration doesn't have a credible strategy to deal with a flood of U.S. manufacturing job losses.
The latest misstep occurred Thursday when the administration's first choice as point man on manufacturing issues withdrew from consideration after Democrats attacked his decision to set up a manufacturing plant in China.
Anthony Raimondo (search), the chief executive of Behlen Manufacturing Co. (search) of Columbus, Neb., said Friday that he had withdrawn because he did not believe he could win Senate approval. In addition to Democratic attacks on Raimondo's decision to build a factory in China, the Nebraska congressional delegation was split on the choice.
"It's a very critical job for manufacturing," Raimondo said, expressing hope the administration would quickly find a replacement who could win Senate approval.
Bush officials insisted they would quickly find a qualified applicant for the job of assistant commerce secretary for manufacturing. Bush created the position six months ago, saying it would serve as the focal point for his administration's drive to bolster U.S. manufacturing, which has lost 3 million jobs -- one in six -- since mid-2000.
Commerce Secretary Donald Evans (search) said Thursday that the administration was pushing ahead to fill the post, one of 57 administration objectives in its plan to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing and deflect Democratic charges that Bush is not doing enough to create jobs.
"We remain focused in this administration on those individuals that are going through the painful period of their life without a job to make sure we have programs to assist them," Evans said on CNBC.
Raimondo's withdrawal on Thursday occurred one day after Sen. John Kerry (search), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats attacked the administration for choosing someone who had announced plans to set up a $3 million factory in China in 2002 four months after laying off 75 workers in his U.S. operations.
Administration officials insisted that Raimondo's withdrawal was not connected to the Democratic attack but instead was related to Nebraska political issues.
Raimondo had defended his decision to open a factory near Beijing, a joint venture with a Chinese company, as a way to sell into the Chinese market.
"We have not shipped jobs overseas," he said. "We are manufacturing buildings inside the China market for the China market."
The flap over the manufacturing job was the administration's latest economic miscue on this year's hot-button political issue of U.S. companies sending manufacturing production and even service jobs such as telephone call centers overseas to save on labor costs -- a process known as outsourcing.
N. Gregory Mankiw (search), the president's chief economist, was forced to apologize last month for remarks endorsing the long-term benefits of outsourcing, saying his comments were insensitive to the plight of jobless Americans.
And the administration had to back away from its own official economic forecast that the economy would be able to create 2.6 million jobs this year, which private economists had called wildly optimistic.
The missteps have left Democrats gloating. Kerry has sought to capitalize on voters' unease about lost jobs by attacking "Benedict Arnold Corporations" who ship jobs overseas while taking advantage of U.S. tax benefits.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) noted that the economy managed to generate only 21,000 jobs in February and all of those had come from the government sector.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., faulted the administration for waiting for six months to fill the manufacturing post and then coming up with a potential nominee whose name had to be withdrawn only one day after it surfaced.
"The country is hemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate and the administration's inability to take the small step of getting someone in place capable of devising a strategy to stop that export is a major problem," Schumer said.
But Evans said the administration believed it was more important to select the right individual for the post. He said it has only been since January that Congress had passed the legislation authorizing creation of the new position.
Other administration officials insisted that Raimondo's withdrawal had nothing to do with the Democratic attacks but rather reflected a split in the home state congressional delegation.
While Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska's Democratic senator, had been an enthusiastic backer of the nomination, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel had complained that he and the state's Republican governor had not been informed of the decision by the White House.
"This is unfortunate for everybody," Hagel spokesman Mike Buttry said. "Somehow the process broke down and this thing got off the tracks."