The good news is that last night Congress actually did something positive for the economy without spending (or rather, borrowing) a dime. Panama, Colombia and South Korea free-trade deals passed overwhelmingly. The Post reports: “The South Korea deal has the potential to create as many 280,000 American jobs, according to a recent assessment by the staff of the U.S. International Trade Commission, and to boost exports by more than $12 billion. Several major labor unions have warned that any gains will come at the cost of layoffs among American workers because of heightened competition from Korean imports.” The bottom line is that “the trade pacts with Korea, Panama and Colombia could increase U.S. exports of goods by $12 billion or more a year. American companies will also have an easier time selling services in those countries, making the deals yet more advantageous. ”
The bad news is that these agreement were signed four years ago under President George W. Bush. As the Democrats’ Big Labor supporters groused and congressional Democrats stalled, the Obama White House avoided sending the bills to Congress for over two and a half years. In the meantime, the United States has lost market share and thousands of jobs.
As speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it in a written statement: “With passage in the House and Senate today, a key component of the Republican jobs plan will be sent to the President for his signature. These significant trade pacts will provide new opportunities for American small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers to expand and hire more workers. And frankly, it shouldn’t have taken this long for it to happen. While a Democrat-controlled House sat idle, other nations expanded their trading ties, and American competitiveness suffered. These common-sense agreements reverse that trend, level the playing field, and provide American job creators access to new customers and markets to sell their products.”
The trade deals passed largely on the back of Republican lawmakers. In the Senate, for example, every one of the “no” votes on the Panama free-trade deal were cast by Democrats (plus socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid). On the Korea deal, all 15 “no” votes were from Democrats. On the Colombia free-trade agreement, the 33 “no” votes included only two Republicans, the two Maine senators.
In the House, the votes were likewise heavily partisan, with Democrats opposing the president and the expansion of U.S. trade markets. On the South Korea deal, 130 of the 151 “no” votes were Democrats. On Panama, 123 of the 129 “no” votes were Democrats, while 158 of the 167 “no” votes on Colombia’s deal were Democrats. It was not a profile in courage for Democrats who decry obstructionism and bemoan the high unemployment rate.
The price of getting these deals through was passage of the Trade Adjustment Authority program, a payoff in effect to organized labor. It was, however, a scaled-down version of the bill. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) explained in a written statement: “In addition to the trade agreements, today’s trade package included Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation that the White House insisted on before it would send the three trade agreements to Congress and allow them to move forward. The TAA program that we passed today, and that the Senate recently passed, was significantly cut, made more efficient and accountable, is sunset after 2014, and does not contribute to the deficit because it is fully offset with spending cuts.”
To sum up, organized labor fought tooth and nail against agreements that will create hundreds of thousands of real, private-sector jobs. Thankfully, the overwhelming number of Republican lawmakers and some stalwart Democrats persevered. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, “By passing free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, we will help the economy and we’ll put the lie to the ridiculous Obama campaign claim that Republicans are somehow rooting against the economy.” He continued, “The fact of the matter is, if President Obama were willing to work with us on more bipartisan legislation like this, nobody would even be talking about a dysfunctional Congress. There wouldn’t be any reason to. But, as we all know, that doesn’t fit in with the president’s reelection strategy. The White House has made it clear that the president is praying for gridlock, so he has somebody – besides himself — to point the finger at next November.”
For now, however, we passed long-overdue trade deals that improve the American economy and signal to three democratic allies that the United States is an ally worth having.