The Biggest Trade Barrier

August 20, 2011 — In Case You Missed It...   

President Obama says he wants to get the U.S. economy growing, so here’s a tip that may help: In order for Congress to ratify free-trade agreements, the White House must first send the signed deals to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

On his three-state tour in the Midwest this week, Mr. Obama repeatedly told audiences that the Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade deals would all be law by now if not for an obstructionist Congress. Passing the deals is something Congress “could do right now,” he said.

Except that’s not true. Congress can’t pass the agreements “right now” because it doesn’t have them. They are still sitting on the President’s desk. Seriously.

If you are surprised to learn this, you are not alone. White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest only learned the news on Friday during a press conference. Asked why the FTAs haven’t been sent, he responded, “We have not sent them over?”

That was followed by what might be called an awkward moment. “I will say this—I mean, there has been an active dialogue that’s been underway between the United States trade representative, other members of the Administration, with the appropriate Congressional leaders in the committees of jurisdiction. We are in a place where we have seen Republicans advocating for passing these free trade agreements for quite some time,” Mr. Earnest explained. He also pointed out that “these three trade agreements combined would create or support about 70,000 jobs here in the U.S.”

A reporter persisted and asked, “Well, when are you going to send them over?” “But I can tell you that there’s no reason—I mean, there’s agreement here about the benefits of these trade agreements getting through the Congress, both here at the White House and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Mr. Earnest referred reporters to “Congress or the USTR on the legislative mechanics of this,” adding that “there is bipartisan agreement on this and it’s something that we should move on really quick.”

We don’t want to pick on poor Mr. Earnest, who is no doubt doing his best, but it’s worth noting that all three of these trade deals were signed three or more years ago, before Mr. Obama became President. If he wants them passed, stop the kvetching and send them to Congress.

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SUBCOMMITTEE: Full Committee    SUBCOMMITTEE: Trade