Cantwell outlines job-promotion efforts

By:  Kathie Durbin
Source: The Columbian

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, speaking to the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, called Clark County’s 14.8 percent unemployment rate “unacceptable” and outlined several steps she is taking to help lift the county out of the economic doldrums.

Those include promoting clean energy manufacturing, getting banks to start lending to small businesses again and reforming the nation’s financial regulatory system, she said.

“Wall Street got a lot of assistance from the federal government, but Main Street has been left behind,” Cantwell told the lunchtime audience of business and government leaders and elected officials.

Cantwell, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said she supports President Barack Obama’s proposal to dedicate $30 billion from the bank bailout fund to help small businesses get loans from community banks.

The President said in February he would propose using $30 billion from the TARP program for a small business lending fund to try to spur job growth. The program would be limited to smaller banks, those with $10 billion in assets or less.

Cantwell also promoted a bill she is sponsoring with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to restore some version of the Glass-Steagall Act. The 1933 law was passed by Congress in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and during a nationwide commercial bank failure. It separated investment and commercial banking activities to prevent commercial banks from engaging in risky stock market investing with depositors’ money.

Congress repealed the act in 1999 under pressure from the banking industry. Many economists believe that repeal helped produced the conditions that led to the recent collapse of the residential mortgage investment sector.

As a result of the repeal, “We have been on a downward trajectory,” Cantwell said. “We have created bigger and bigger dark markets of these toxic assets. I want to get back to basics, so we have transparency” in the financial sector, she said.

The Cantwell-McCain bill has seven sponsors. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a member of the Senate banking committee, is supporting a similar approach.

One of the biggest untapped opportunities for Clark County and the metro area is clean energy, Cantwell said. Washington ranks fifth in the nation in generation of wind energy, she said, and opportunities to benefit from a global shift to green energy are virtually unlimited. But the state lacks the infrastructure to become a major player in the manufacture of solar and wind energy components.

“We need to give tax credits to manufacturers who actually create jobs in the U.S.,” she said to applause from the audience.

Asked her opinion of President Obama’s announcement last week that he will lift the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast, Cantwell said, “I think our focus ought to be on these new sources” of renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels. “We aren’t going to affect the price of oil” with the small amount of untapped reserves the new policy might yield, she said.

During a brief question-and-answer session, Cantwell was asked what she can do, and what residents of Vancouver can do, to win federal funding for the Columbia River Crossing.

“Any bridge that was built originally to carry a horse and wagon needs to be replaced,” she quipped.

On a serious note, she added, “We need the region to decide what its priorities are” — in the design of a new span over the Columbia River and in how local governments choose to pay their share.

If that happens, she said, “We will do everything we can to make this a project of national significance.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.