Vice President Gore's views are MIA.
Since 1980, Wood & Wood Products has invited the presidential candidates representing the major political parties to share their views on issues critical to the wood products industry.
In keeping with this tradition, phone calls were placed to the respective campaign headquarters of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush in mid-August. Next, a series of six questions on subjects ranging from product liability reform to international trade was sent to the attention of the campaign aide designated to facilitate the responses for each of the candidates.
Obtaining responses to our questionnaire has never been easy, but somehow -- usually after many pestering phone calls -- we have always managed to do so. Until this year, that is.
While it took a few extra phone calls, the Bush Camp ultimately forwarded the governor's responses to us on Sept. 17.
We were far less successful with Vice President Gore, however. Despite initially being told that our questionnaire would be filled out, and in spite of numerous phone calls to solicit the vice president's responses, we have to this date not received a reply. Our last-ditch correspondence to Gore's campaign headquarters, dated Oct. 2, went so far as to say that "we will run the Bush response alone and report that, despite repeated attempts, we received no response from the Gore camp."
That's where things stand as of today. In the absence of Vice President Gore's views, we present those of his Republican challenger, George W. Bush.
If and when we receive Mr. Gore's responses we will post them along with his opponent's. Time is running out, though. The hotly contested election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS: For 25 years, manufacturers have lobbied in vain for product liability reform. In May of 1996, President Clinton vetoed the Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act. It would have established a national liability standard, including providing legal protection for manufacturers whose products are unknowingly modified, misused or more than 20 years old. It would also have placed a cap on monetary awards for victims. Do you think product liability reform is warranted, and if so, to what extent?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe that the litigation explosion clogging America's courts imposes significant and unnecessary costs on consumers and businesses. As President, I will prioritize comprehensive civil justice reform. I believe it is possible to deter and punish bad-faith frivolous litigation without compromising access to the courts for legitimate lawsuits.
My reform plan will focus not on lowering awards for victims, but on raising standards for lawyers. In Texas, I have shown that -- despite the powerful influence of the trial lawyers' lobby -- leadership can prevail over special interests. My plan for federal civil justice reform will ensure a civil justice system that is swift, efficient, predictable, and fair, and one that deters frivolous litigation.
I believe America will be prosperous if we reduce the regulations and pro-litigation culture that strangle enterprise. I plan to do in Washington what I did in Texas: fight for meaningful, common sense tort reform. I have proposed a comprehensive plan for federal legal reform, including calling for a federal "Fair Settlement Rule," which would require parties who reject a pre-trial settlement offer, and who ultimately lose their case or receive substantially less at trial, to pay the other party's costs, including legal fees.
As Governor of Texas I signed legislation capping punitive damages and increasing the evidentiary standard for punitive damages from a "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." I also signed state legislation discouraging frivolous medical malpractice suits by increasing bond requirements and requiring expert medical reports to certify a claim's legitimacy. In addition, I proposed and signed a Good Samaritan law granting civil immunity to volunteer medical professionals who donate their services to needy Texans through nonprofit health care organizations. As a result of these common-sense reforms, consumers and businesses have saved more than $3 billion in insurance rate reductions.
W&WP: The Occupational Safety & Health Administration's proposed Ergonomics Policy has drawn the ire of the manufacturing community. Opponents of the bill say there is not enough available science to support the aims of the rule and that its requirements will be very costly to businesses. Do you support OSHA's ergonomics policy? Why or why not?
GOV. BUSH: I believe the federal government should provide workers and businesses with information about ergonomic-related injuries, but not impose federal regulations that are not scientifically proven. Any federal action, particularly burdening small business with complex and rigid mandates, should be delayed until the National Academy of Sciences completes its comprehensive study of ergonomics and repetitive motion injuries.
W&WP: The North American Free Trade Agreement was launched during the Bush Administration in the early 1990s and signed into law by President Clinton. Has it been more of a positive or a negative for U.S. manufacturers? Would your administration push for extending free trade to South America?
GOV. BUSH: NAFTA has been good for the U.S. economy, increasing exports and supporting high-wage jobs. Since passage of NAFTA, U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico -- our two largest trading partners -- have grown faster than U.S. exports to the rest of the world. And NAFTA has created an estimated 90,000 to 160,000 net new jobs, which is significant since export-related jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than other jobs. As President, I want to build on NAFTA by creating an entire hemisphere of free trade throughout the Americas.
I am committed to free trade and will work to tear down trade barriers and tariffs to U.S. products so the whole world trades in freedom. I will push to restore Presidential "fast-track" negotiating authority, negotiate new market-opening agreements, push for an ambitious agenda for the next round of global trade talks, and support China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Additionally, as President, I will fight to ensure that U.S. products are allowed entry into oversees markets and require our trading partners to use accepted scientific principles in enacting their regulations. Finally, I have called for strict enforcement of anti-dumping and other unfair trade laws.
W&WP: According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States imported nearly $1.8 billion of furniture and wood components from China last year, while exporting only $8.4 million worth to China. How will the legislation to normalize trade relations with China improve or worsen the nation's furniture trade gap with China?
GOV. BUSH: With 96 percent of the world's population living outside of the United States, I recognize that America's prosperity increasingly depends on expanding markets overseas. I am a committed free-trader and will use every available tool to combat unfair trade practices. I am confident that America's best is the best in the world. To lead the world on trade and open markets for U.S. companies, we must:
* Pass presidential trade negotiating authority so that we can negotiate new market-opening agreements. Every President since Gerald Ford has had this authority, which the Clinton-Gore Administration let expire in 1994. As yet, they have been unable to renew this important tool for trade negotiations. The lack of this authority has not only hobbled this Administration's ability to pry open foreign markets, but has undermined America's fundamental ability to lead global market-opening efforts. As President, I will work with Congress to renew presidential trade negotiating authority.
* Push for an ambitious agenda for the next round of global trade talks: I believe that the next trade round should level the playing field once and for all so that the whole world trades in freedom. I support efforts for a so-called "single undertaking," or a big package in the next round of trade negotiations, in order to ensure maximum negotiating leverage.
* China-WTO Membership: I believe that on the right terms, admitting China to the WTO is in America's interest. It will provide U.S. businesses access to a growing market, and will help introduce American values along with American products. By failing to conclude recent negotiations over China's membership in the WTO, the current Administration squandered enormous opportunities. As President, I will work to open the China market -- and other key export markets -- for America's farmers, ranchers, and businesspeople.
W&WP: Survey after survey conducted by this magazine indicates that recruiting, training and retraining woodworkers are the biggest challenges faced by the industry. What might your administration do to help the industry attract and keep good people?
GOV. BUSH: Attracting, training, and retaining employees is a challenge facing companies across America. I believe that educational excellence is the surest path to security and prosperity in the 21st century, and the wisest way to develop America's workforce. Today there is a persistent achievement gap in our public schools between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. Access is universal, but excellence is not. As President, I will challenge the status quo and enact bold education reforms that insist on high standards to match the high hopes of America's parents.
That's my record in Texas. We have pushed test scores up across the board -- especially for minority students. How? By insisting on high academic standards, local control, no-nonsense accountability, and a system of rewards and consequences for schools based on what matters most: improved academic performance for all students.
I reject the bigotry of low expectations and believe we can transform U.S. schools into high-performing learning centers. Modeled on my success in Texas -- my reform plan encompasses seven basic goals:
1. Close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and others.
When I am President, the federal government will no longer pay schools to cheat poor children, and every member of my Administration will be committed to leaving no child behind. I will overcome inertia, overcome vested interests, and fling open the doors to reform and change.
This commitment -- giving every American child the chance to learn and strive and rise in the world -- will also strengthen America's workforce. Texas is a nationally recognized leader in workforce reform, and our success demonstrates that trusting front-line officials who know local needs and priorities best, and teaming with the private sector whenever possible -- business, faith-based, education, and other groups -- yields strong results for employers and job-seekers.
Whether it's education reform or assisting American industry attract and retain qualified employees, I favor high standards, accountability, and giving local officials added flexibility to spark innovation. America's rapidly changing and diverse economy requires agile, localized approaches to workforce development, not one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington, DC. I support bottom-up approaches, not top-down ones. When I am President, the federal government will champion tailored solutions that best meet the needs of workers and local economies.
W&WP: What would your administration do to help small manufacturing business, including those tied to the furniture and woodworking industries, be more competitive and successful?
BUSH: I understand that hard-working entrepreneurs created our thriving economy, not government. But, as I have shown in Texas, government can create an environment in which entrepreneurs flourish -- an environment that encourages innovation, rewards risk-taking, and promotes equal opportunity.
As President, I will support the growth of the New Economy by cutting taxes, encouraging investment in R&D, curbing frivolous lawsuits, pursuing free trade and implementing sensible export controls. To ensure that all Americans share in the benefits of the New Economy, I will reform education through high standards and accountability, accelerate e-government, and increase access to assistive technologies for Americans with disabilities.
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