GARY — Two Democratic federal legislators vowed they will fight in the U.S. House and Senate to protect steelworkers' jobs from international trade manipulations.
"All we need is a fair playing field," U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, said.
He and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, were at Indiana University Northwest on Friday afternoon to meet with union and management leaders of ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel to discuss strategies in upcoming congressional votes on federal spending and regulation.
Visclosky has represented Indiana's 1st Congressional District, which includes Lake, Porter and western LaPorte counties, since 1985. Donnelly has represented the Hoosier state in the U.S. Senate since 2013 and previously the 2nd Congressional District, which includes eastern LaPorte County.
Brett S. Smith, of the American Iron and Steel Institute who took part in the roundtable discussion, expressed concern about the layoff of 14,000 jobs in the steel industry in the last two years.
Visclosky raised concerns about the potential negative effects of President Donald Trump's proposed 2018 budget. "We need to have dollars to make sure trade laws are enforced," he said.
He said the Trump administration's budget proposal would cut $45 million in federal dollars that go toward monitoring and working on international steel dumping complaints, and $10 million from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"We are going to make sure any infrastructure bill that comes forward has 'Buy America' in it. If we are going to be rebuilding American infrastructure, it is going to be made in America as well. This is one of the absolutely critical components of moving forward," Donnelly said.
Visclosky said if the Trump administration reopens negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, "You want to make sure that any discussions include improvements that could be made, not only for domestic steel, but all manufacturing in the United States."
Visclosky also expressed confidence Congress will turn back efforts by Trump to cut mass transit spending that would put future plans for the South Shore commuter line in jeopardy.
"The senator has been adamant, as well as myself, in growing the economy here through the expansion of the South Shore," Visclosky said.
"The administration has asked for no money for any new (mass transit) starts. I don't belittle the challenge ahead of us, but ... when the final budget for 2018 is completed, there will be money for new starts across this country, including the South Shore. I'm certain of that."
The South Shore wants to build 9 miles of track linking Munster and Dyer to the commuter passenger line. Federal funds are needed to cover half the $615 million in construction cost.