That’s why John Boehner, the incoming Speaker of the House, has such a good idea: Congress and the Obama administration should combine our country’s three pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and consider them at once.
It makes political and economic sense for both Democrats and Republicans.
In November, President Obama suffered a pair of major setbacks: His party was trounced in the mid-term elections and his subsequent trip to Asia ended in disappointment when he failed to bring home a free-trade agreement with South Korea.
Ever since, however, he has worked with the diligence of an early bird that’s out to catch a worm. Obama forged a bipartisan compromise with Republicans on taxes, showing Americans and the world that he’s capable of leading a divided government. His team also wrapped up trade negotiations with South Korea, striking a deal that promises to create jobs and help realize his goal of doubling exports by 2015.
The agreement with South Korea is substantial. It would become America’s biggest free-trade pact since NAFTA, tying our economy more closely to a fast-growing dynamo in Asia. The deal isn’t perfect, but it’s still very good for the United States. He even managed to persuade a couple of big unions, the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers, to support the deal because it will boost export opportunities for car manufacturers and agriculture.
The measures with Colombia and Panama aren’t nearly as large because their economies aren’t nearly as big. But they’re still excellent deals that will increase our ability to sell goods and services to foreign customers.
So, in the spirit of birds of a feather flocking together, Congress should bundle all three and approve them.
I know what you’re thinking: Please stop with the folksy idioms about avian life!
Or maybe you’re wondering whether a bird in the hand is worth two (or three) in the bush. In other words, doesn’t it make sense just to let the agreement with South Korea proceed on the grounds that it appears ready for legislative success whereas the fate of the other two is less certain?
Well, I’d gladly take the agreement with South Korea on its own merits. Not long ago, I feared that we’d never see it enacted. Today, I’m optimistic about its chances.
Yet the arguments for and against each trade agreement are almost identical. To the extent that differences exist, they’re just variations on a theme. A case for one agreement is really a case for all three. That’s why Obama found it so easy to change his mind about trade from skepticism to support.
Either you believe that engagement with the global economy will allow the United States to soar with the eagles–or you’re an economic isolationist who thinks the United States should act like a fledgling that can’t see past the nearest cluster of leaves.
Must we have a political battle over South Korea–and then re-fight it two more times over Colombia and Panama? Wouldn’t it make more sense to join all three agreements, hold a robust debate about the economic principles of trade, and then schedule an up-or-down vote?
That’s Boehner’s proposal. Obama would be smart to seize it.
Following raucous midterm elections, both the president and congressional Republicans have an opportunity to redefine themselves. Either they can be ideological obstructionists who refuse to work together or they can be pragmatic problem solvers who search for points of common interest.
On some issues, such as health care, the two camps may be too far apart to achieve consensus. The three trade agreements are a different matter. By supporting them, the politicians can prove that they’re in Washington to get things done–rather than simply to feather their own nests.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. http://www.truthabouttrade.org