McConnell focuses on protecting jobs in Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
received a hero's welcome Wednesday at a Louisville aluminum
fabricating plant that had fallen on hard times until he helped
pass fair trade legislation, protecting some 400 jobs.

In a post-earmarks Washington, McConnell has been using his
political muscle to protect jobs at home. In recent weeks, he's
been credited with helping to preserve some 1,200 jobs at the
Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant for at least another year, and with
protecting 200 jobs at garment factories in Campbellsville and
Olive Hill.

For generations, Kentucky politicians have been judged on their
success in directing federal dollars to their home state. With that
option out of favor, they've had to find other ways to prove their
worth - such as protecting jobs.

McConnell arrived to applause Wednesday at Cardinal Aluminum
Co., posing for photographs with employees, even signing
autographs, all because he had helped to win passage of the
legislation earlier this year that protected the Louisville firm
and others like it from unfair trade practices.

"Thank you for everything you've done for the company and for
me," said maintenance technician Allan Hill, stretching out his
hand to shake with McConnell.

McConnell said he was simply doing his job.

"I wasn't sent to Washington just to work on international
issues," he said. "I was also sent to look out for Kentucky. And
I'm grateful that I was able to be helpful in this particular

McConnell's focus on protecting jobs, besides endearing him to
voters, is sending a no-so-subtle message about the value of
re-electing him in 2014. The idea, said University of Louisville
political scientist Dewey Clayton, is to show that Kentuckians
benefit from having McConnell to continue serving as the Senate
Republican leader, a powerful post that gives him clout on all
issues, including jobs.

"When you start talking about jobs, you're talking about bread
and butter issues," Clayton said. "When you keep a plant from
closing, people get that."

The notion isn't lost on other Kentucky political leaders. U.S.
Sen. Rand Paul was in Paducah on Wednesday, touring the gaseous
diffusion plant. Paul, McConnell, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield and
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear all laid claim to helping broker a deal
earlier this month to help keep the plant running for another year.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the beleaguered plant that was
set to close later this year will remain open to enrich depleted
uranium for the Tennessee Valley Authority and Energy Northwest, a
utility in Washington state. Chu said the arrangement involves
transferring a portion of the Department of Energy's depleted
uranium to Energy Northwest, which will contract with the Paducah
plant to do the enrichment.

Paul said securing that deal shows that "making noise about
projects in your state is important."

In Louisville, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth has taken the jobs issue a
step further, scheduling workshops to help his constituents find
jobs. His next one is in June. Yarmuth works with job placement
professionals from KentuckianaWorks, the Louisville Urban League,
and Metropolitan College to help his constituents write resumes and
prepare for interviews.

And Beshear travels the state to announce each new company that
moves into Kentucky. On Wednesday, he was in Leitchfield where New York Blower Co. will open a new manufacturing plant, creating 125 jobs. The state provided tax breaks worth up to $4.8 million to
lure the company in.

In the case of Cardinal Aluminum, McConnell helped to get
legislation passed in March that allows the U.S. Department of
Commerce to continue to impose duties on imports from several
countries, including China. McConnell said those duties level the
playing field for U.S. companies, including Cardinal Aluminum.

And through McConnell's efforts, workers at military garment
factories in Campbellsville and Olive Hill no longer have to worry
about losing their jobs to federal prisoners.

McConnell pressured Federal Prison Industries not to bid on the
military contract now held by Campbellsville Apparel Co. and
Ashland Sales and Service Co. in Olive Hill.

In Campbellsville, 115 jobs could have been eliminated if
prisoners took got the contract for making military T-shirts. And
in Olive Hill, 100 jobs would have been cut if the prisoners got
the contract for making Air Force windbreakers.

Federal Prison Industries can underbid other contractors because
their incarcerated labor force gets paid between 23 cents and $1.15
an hour.

"It's hard to be even-keeled about the stupidity of that,"
McConnell said Wednesday. "Here you had one part of the government using, in effect, labor that they entirely controlled - prisoners who they could pay as little as they wanted to - to undercut a private sector government contractor. If that isn't outrageous."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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