BELLEVILLE, Mich. - Surrounded by temporarily stilled auto parts-stamping machines, John McCain said here yesterday that he disagreed with the assessment of his own campaign economic adviser that America is suffering from a "mental recession."
"I strongly disagree with [former Texas] Senator [Phil] Gramm. Senator Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me," Mr. McCain said in a news conference following a town hall meeting with auto parts manufacturing owners, employees, and undecided voters here yesterday.
He said Michigan is "hurting very badly," and that America is facing "enormous economic challenges."
The comments of Mr. Gramm, who is a vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS, appeared in the Washington Times. He also said that the U.S. has become "a nation of whiners."
Earlier yesterday, Democratic presidential likely nominee Barack Obama said of Mr. Gramm that "America already has one Dr. Phil."
"We need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination. It's not all in your head," Mr. Obama said.
The Arizona senator held yesterday's town hall meeting in the Bayloff Stamped Products factory, a family business since 1948. The suburban Detroit plant, Bayloff Stamped Products, has 180 employees here and in Youngstown, Ohio, making parts for car components.
Co-owner Christopher Bayer said the business has struggled with higher fuel prices and a doubling in the cost of its raw metal materials in the past year.
Many of the approximately 200 participants in the meeting were Bayloff employees. Others were Michigan auto parts manufacturers who came as a group, as well as people the campaign said were invited because they were undecided voters.
The auto parts executives told Mr. McCain they wanted more enforcement of international trade pacts, such as the World Trade Organization, that allow economic competitors to manipulate their currencies and violate intellectual property protections.
"Let's fix our trade laws. China has abused the WTO for years. It's killing us," said Jim Zawacki, owner of GR Spring & Stamping, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Mr. McCain said as president he would move for more enforcement of trade practices, but insisted he would stand against protectionism.
"If there is unfair trade, we have ... procedures to take people to various panels to make sure abuses are fixed," Mr. McCain said, before promising to unleash American innovation while keeping taxes low.
Mr. McCain has been hit with complaints about unfair trading practices from organized labor as well, mainly over complaints that lax labor and environmental rules in other countries have attracted U.S. manufacturers to move their manufacturing operations, costing states like Ohio and Michigan hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Mr. Obama has vowed to renegotiate trade agreements to require other countries to have stronger organized labor and environmental protections.
Asked to respond to comments from Senator Obama critical of Mr. McCain's record on women's issues, including expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act and making sick leave mandatory, Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of having the view that "big government is the solution."
"He will raise your taxes, he will increase regulation, and he will tell our friends here, this wonderful manufacturing plant, how many sick days they should give their employees," Mr. McCain said, saying such provisions should be left to negotiation between management and labor.
Mr. McCain emphasized his support of "green technologies," and told one doubtful questioner that he believes humans are responsible for climate change.
He praised Michigan on Gov. Jennifer Granholm's signing of an international Great Lakes compact to prevent diversions of water outside the Great Lakes Watershed.
He said even though water is so scarce in Arizona that, "the trees chase the dogs," "We will not in any way have any designs on the water in the Great Lakes."
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