A time for rational thinking

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 3:22 p.m.
The broad gauges show an American economy perking along nicely. Consumer confidence remains high. The stock market continues to soar. And just recently, a key index of manufacturing strength surprised even the analysts. Many economists now predict that the economy will retain momentum well into 2007 and weather the hits of falling home prices and weakness in the auto industry.f-z So amid all these positive signs, why are so many people - particularly some of those recently elected to Congress - so worried?
The reason has something to do with the internal fighting among Democrats who, now in power, must take up the burden of setting the agenda.
One of the biggest divides in the party since the midterm elections has been economic issues. But that legacy is now under siege from populists elected Nov. 7 who, with the backing of organized labor, may try to launch a foolish fight against globalization.
They have some ammunition. Inflation-adjusted wages for the average worker hadn't risen much until recently. Federal statistics now show that trend has finally shifted, but anxiety remains high on both the factory floor and among vulnerable white-collar workers alike. Meanwhile, the ranks of wealthy America continue to grow disproportionately to the ranks of the middle class. That's something that even some of President Bush's cabinet - notably Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson - have expressed concern about.
But it's important for the cooler heads in Washington to understand what Congress can accomplish - and what it cannot.
Congress should not: pass protectionist legislation that slams the door on free trade. That would be a short-sighted mistake and make it harder for American companies, including those in Wisconsin, to compete in the global marketplace. This doesn't mean that safeguards for American workers and concerns over working conditions overseas aren't reasonable. But a trade war could cost the country thousands of jobs.
The question is whether the new leaders in Congress understand the limits of their reach.

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