By Dean Kleckner: Des Moines, Iowa
In his jobs speech last week, President Obama demanded that Congress pass his new stimulus proposals “right away.” This was his constant refrain: right away, right away, right away.
Here’s something Obama can do “right away” to create jobs: submit to Congress three free-trade agreements that have languished for years.
It’s hard to believe that the president hasn’t done this already because he seems to understand that exports create jobs. At least that’s what he has said repeatedly.
In his State of the Union address last year, Obama appealed for congressional approval of the trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. He repeated his call for these pacts in this year’s State of the Union. And he did it once again last week.
“Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products,” said Obama in his latest high-profile speech. “If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.”
This makes sense. One study shows that for every $1 billion in new exports, the U.S. economy gains 6,000 jobs.
So obviously Congress should enact these agreements “right away.”
But Congress is powerless to do anything on its own. First, Obama must formally submit these agreements for approval. So far, he hasn’t bothered.
He could have submitted them more than two and a half years ago, right after he took the oath of office, because they were negotiated by the Bush administration and ready to go at that time. He could have submitted them more than a year and a half ago, when he first embraced them publicly.
Heck, he could have brought the paperwork with him last week when he traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue and spoke to Congress.
And yet he still hasn’t submitted the trade agreements to Congress.
Some pundits have speculated that Obama plans to wage a Truman-style re-election campaign, meaning that he intends to run against a “do-nothing Congress.”
When it comes to trade, however, he’s a do-nothing president. He talks and talks and talks--and Congress waits and waits and waits for him to submit the agreements he continues to praise.
If Obama submits the agreements and Congress falls into gridlock, then the president will have a case. Until then, however, he may want to cut back on the lectures about what must be done “right away.”
Perhaps the presidential candidates could exert some pressure. So far, however, they haven’t seized the opportunity. Trade barely came up last week, when eight of them gathered for a debate at the Reagan Library. And almost nothing was said on Monday night, when they faced off at a tea-party debate hosted by CNN---only Michelle Bachmann made a specific reference to the free-trade agreements.
With the exception of Ron Paul, who has opposed many trade agreements during his career in Congress, all of the GOP contenders probably favor the accords with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Yet only Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has done more than offer cursory support. On August 31, his campaign website posted a document that calls for passage of the three deals that Obama says he wants. Huntsman even takes it a step farther, saying he would seek new agreements with India, Japan, and Taiwan.
One candidate isn’t enough. These Republicans are auditioning for leader of the free world--and they need to tell us how they would lead on free trade.
They could pledge to submit the three pending trade deals to Congress on January 20, 2013--in other words, on Day One of a new presidential administration. This would let voters know where they stand and lock them in to a useful promise.
Perhaps their words would even compel Obama to act.
That would be the best result of all. As Obama himself said in his speech, Americans in need of work “don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months” until the next election.
No they don’t, Mr. President. So what are you waiting for? Send these trade agreements to Congress “right away.”
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade and Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org