Caucus to Defend Furniture Industry

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Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Congress is taking notice of increasing job losses among U.S. furniture manufacturers as overseas competitors, especially China, grab more of the market.

The Congressional Furnishings Caucus meets for the first time today, led by two North Carolina congressmen, Republican Howard Coble and Democrat Melvin Watt.

There are 131 caucuses registered by the House office of member services - from the Air Force Caucus to the Zero Capital Gains Caucus.

About 20 congressmen are expected to join Mr. Coble and Mr. Watt today for a briefing on the furniture industry and legislation designed to help domestic manufacturers export their products.

The end purpose is "promoting and protecting the interests of the American home- and commercial-furnishings manufacturing industry," the congressmen said in a letter to colleagues.

Nationwide job losses in the furniture industry prompted creation of the caucus, said a spokesman for Mr. Coble. Almost 70,000 North Carolina residents work in the furniture industry - but 3,800 lost their jobs last year, according to an analysis by Wachovia Corp.

Furniture-manufacturing employment reached a 10-year peak in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, when as many as 559,000 Americans worked in the industry.

As of April, industry employment was down 16. …