On September 29th, Congress adjourned. I voted against adjourning because there is still business left unfinished. But, with that said, there has been some progress made on two issues that are very important to our state: a change in trade policy to help our economy and a new program to help veterans access health care closer to home.
On the trade front, the House finally passed a bill that I have been pushing for years that will make it easier for the U.S. to initiate investigations into currency manipulation for the purposes of determining tariffs on imports that are unfairly subsidized. I have made this issue a priority because of the effect that China's currency manipulation is having on U.S. businesses and workers. Maine's paper industry has been particularly hard hit in recent years due to the flooding of U.S. markets by heavily subsidized Chinese and Indonesian paper imports, which are made even cheaper by undervalued currency. In fact, according to a study done by the Economic Policy Institute, between 2001 and 2008 approximately 9,000 jobs have been lost in Maine due to the U.S. trade deficit with China, which is fueled by China's undervalued currency.
China has a long history of suppressing the value of its currency to make its exports cheaper than they would be if China allowed its currency to be set by the market. That currency manipulation puts a drag on the U.S. economy and has reduced U.S. GDP by 1.4 percentage points annually. Forcing China to compete on an even playing field in the U.S market will make U.S. manufacturers more competitive. It will also create jobs. Economists estimate that revaluation of China's currency would create 500,000 manufacturing jobs right here at home.
I am pleased to report that the bill to help curb unfair foreign currency manipulation practices received a strong, bipartisan vote of 348 to 70, sending a powerful signal to China that we aren't going to tolerate their abusive tactics anymore. It also shows American workers that we will not stand by while they lose their jobs because of China's illegal trade practices. Passage of this bill into law will help our nation rebuild and create jobs. Now we need the Senate to pass it so that the President can sign it into law. But even House passage of the bill will hold China's feet to the fire on this issue and may provide relief to manufacturers throughout our country and right here in Maine.
On the issue of helping veterans access Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care closer to home, one initiative that I have pushed for is about to come full circle next year - the implementation of a new pilot program to provide VA health care services through a local provider in Aroostook County. In 2008, I worked with my colleagues on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to pass a bill called the "Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act." The bill contained a number of important policies, including this new program that I fought to include for Maine. Dubbed "Project ARCH" (Access Received Closer to Home) by the VA, this pilot program's goal is to increase access to health care to more rural veterans with the hopes that we can expand it in the future to other areas of our state and country.
As veterans in northern Maine know all too well, the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta and the VA facilities in Boston are too far away for many in our state. While improvements have been made through the opening of clinics, health care access points and mobile clinics, this new program will help increase access to VA health care in Maine even further. I've been pushing the VA to implement this program for years now, and though it's taken a while to get going, I'm pleased that they are finally moving it forward.
In the coming days, VA will set up a website for local veterans to access additional information about the new program. In the next few months, the VA will contract with a central Aroostook County health care provider. And by mid-2011 the program should be fully operational and serving veterans in Aroostook County and northern Washington and Penobscot Counties. When the program is up and running next year, veterans in northern Maine will finally have a place closer to home to receive care.
I will keep a close eye on this program's progress and make sure the VA keeps up the pace and activates it as soon as possible. Veterans in northern Maine have waited a long time for this, and I have been proud to partner with them to make this project a reality.
Representative Mike Michaud