THE U.S. labor market continues to heal. Employers created more than 300,000 new payroll jobs in November, the vast majority of them in the private sector. The unemployment rate remains at 5.8 percent, but there are signs that wages at last are growing again, at least modestly.
Of all major industrial economies, the United States is probably the healthiest. Indeed, if favorable trends such as low oil prices continue, the economy might achieve the long-awaited “escape velocity” that would enable the Federal Reserve to end its zero interest-rate policy without harming growth.
For all the heat he’s taking over other issues, from foreign policy to Ferguson, Mo., President Obama deserves more credit for the economy’s soft landing after the Great Recession, even if he has to share it with the Fed and the boom in domestic energy production. His remarks in a meeting with the Business Roundtable last week showed that he has at least a couple of realistic ideas for how he and the new Republican-controlled Congress can help consolidate the recovery in 2015.
Specifically, Mr. Obama emphasized the prospects for a bipartisan agreements on tax reform and international trade. Neither of those will be easy, but the latter is probably more achievable in the short term — especially if Mr. Obama follows through on his pledge to take on “folks in my own party and in my own constituency” who oppose it. Republicans already back legislation that would permit Congress to consider proposed free trade pacts with the European Union and 11 Pacific Rim nations on an expedited basis, once Mr. Obama’s team finishes negotiating them. This bill, known as trade promotion authority (TPA), would make it easier for U.S. negotiators to complete the deals because it gives the other nations involved greater assurance that Congress cannot undermine what the president agrees to. Yet until now, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), a long-time trade skeptic, has slow-walked TPA.
By contrast, Mr. Reid’s soon-to-be successor, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is a TPA enthusiast. That makes sense generally — and especially with regard to these two proposed trade deals, which involve mainly high-wage, environmentally conscious trading partners such as Europe, Japan, Australia and Singapore. In a separate meeting with business leaders, Mr. McConnell expressed the view that “there’s a potential for agreement” on trade. Still, TPA would take 60 votes to clear the Senate. If Mr. McConnell is willing to deliver most or all of his Senate Republican majority’s votes for this long-postponed Obama administration policy objective, and if Mr. Obama reciprocates by pushing Democrats to join, Americans will see growth-enhancing proof that bipartisanship is not dead.