One of the more disingenuous aspects of President Obama’s Rose Garden speech yesterday was his plea to pass three pending free-trade deals. He said, “I want Congress to pass a set of trade deals — deals we’ve already negotiated — that would help displaced workers looking for new jobs and would allow our businesses to sell more products in countries in Asia and South America, products that are stamped with the words ‘Made in America.’” Does he?
The day after his speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in effect told the president his own party wasn’t going to help. The Hill reported:
The California Democrat signaled doubts that looming trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia would benefit U.S. workers. President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to approve the deals, which he and Republicans argue would create jobs.
“The White House may support it, but the Congress may have a different view,” Pelosi warned on MSNBC.
During a lengthy interview, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell suggested that the long-delayed trade pacts “could have produced more jobs.”
Pelosi responded, “Well, that’s debatable.”
It’s debatable? By whom — the AFL-CIO executive board? A spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee emails me, ““These agreements have strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate and rightfully so. The agreements have the ability to add 250,000 U.S. jobs and $10 billion to our economy, and they level the playing field for American workers, farmers, and businesses. What’s especially disappointing is that despite House commitments, including by Chairman Camp, to move standalone trade adjustment assistance legislation at the same time as the trade agreements, the Administration still hasn’t transmitted these agreements.” He points out, “That inaction has real economic effects. We are already losing ground to our foreign competitors. Reports show that EU exports to South Korea are already up nearly 20 percent in the handful of weeks since that agreement entered into force. Those are contracts and relationships our workers and employers should have had a shot at. Washington must act and act now; we cannot afford to let these trade agreements languish any longer.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s communications director, Don Stewart, deadpanned when I asked him about the Pelosi comment: “I was a little surprised to see Rep. Pelosi disagree with the President on the trade agreements and the benefits of job creation.” He then conveyed McConnell’s remarks, “One very big thing the administration could do in that direction is get those trade agreements up here. They enjoy bipartisan support. They will create jobs in America, for Americans, and we hope they’ll be waiting for us when the Senate returns.”
Other Republicans were more overtly irked. A pro-free-trade senator’s spokesman points out that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) voiced a very different view in April. (“Colombia is a critical ally to the United States, and I strongly believe it is in our economic and national security interests to strengthen our ties by moving the agreement forward. Colombia has made significant progress in addressing worker rights and violence against workers, and I look forward to continuing to work with Colombia on what needs to be done so that we can advance this agreement and the other two pending trade agreements very soon.”) The pro-free-trade senator’s spokesman added: “No wonder [Democrats] are having to keep ‘pivoting back’ to a jobs message, the left and the even more left are disagreeing on what will actually create jobs.”
Former White House press secretary Dana Perino recalled that the Bush administration handed deals off to Obama. “The lack of passage of the trade deals is a shame. They were all ready to go in January 2009 and could have been done early on in the presidency. Unfortunately, the administration hesitated and that gave all the different constituencies, er, unions, a chance to put up all sorts of roadblocks and weaken the agreements.” She pointed out that the delay has an economic cost: “In the meantime, many other countries have swooped in to fill the void we left. Now the administration is weaker and can’t muscle them through without more concessions to its left-wing. They might be able to get them passed late this year, and I hope they do but not at significantly more cost.”
Given the way the debt-ceiling deal worked out, you can understand what is going on here. Obama in theory might favor passage of the trade deals. But he lacks the ability to galvanize his own party and the will to buck his union patrons. So nothing happens. It is quintessential, impotent Obama.