Exports Must Be Freed From Partisan Politics

I am a die-hard advocate for supporting U.S. exports, so it concerns me that exports have been taken hostage during the ongoing Congressional infighting. Exports are vital, considering that more than 38 million American jobs depend on trade. One in three manufacturing jobs depends on exports, and one in three acres on American farms is planted for hungry consumers overseas.

U.S. exports set another record in 2012, growing 4.4 percent ($66 billion) and reaching $1.56 trillion, despite significant economic headwinds from abroad.

So we should all be concerned about the latest Congressional battle revolving around granting President Obama fast track negotiating authority, or trade promotion authority (TPA), which gives the president the authority to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

TPA was first authorized by Congress as part of the Trade Act of 1974 and was in effect until 1994. It languished until it was reauthorized under the Trade Act of 2002 before expiring again in 2007.

Since then, the president has never asked for TPA, until he mentioned it during his most recent State of the Union address. Now it has become a point of contention among both parties.

Just when we thought that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything, they do agree on one point: they don’t want Obama to have TPA.

Even bipartisan TPA legislation introduced by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., has found a Congress unwilling to sign on to the legislation.

Many Republicans don’t trust Obama with TPA because they think he will use the power to support labor and environmental standards that they will be unable to stop.

In fact, in February, 550 labor, environmental and consumer advocacy groups, which have previously backed free trade deals, co-signed a letter to Congress calling on it to reject the TPA.

Even Democrats don’t want to grant Obama TPA. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has signaled that the party won’t support the Baucus-Camp bill in its current form; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who gave a frosty reception to Obama when he asked for TPA during his State of the Union address, has hinted he may even block the legislation in his chamber.

The real sticking point over TPA rests with Obama’s propensity for avoiding Congress when he makes decisions. While the president has historically had the authority to negotiate free trade agreements and get Congressional approval, the new bill would empower the president to sign a trade pact before Congress votes on it, allowing the executive branch to write legislation to implement the pact and even amend existing U.S. law. We’ve all seen enough of that!

We need to get free trade agreements signed. That means the president must have the same authority as the people sitting across the table from him have. On the other hand, I have some of the same reservations that many people have over having Obama direct trade negotiations.

First, he has no experience in this area and has not initiated a single free trade agreement.

Second, despite his public support for free trade, behind the scenes he must mollify trade unions that continue to paint trade as U.S. job killers, which has been proven again and again to be false.

Addressing the United Steelworkers and the BlueGreen Alliance recently, Pelosi is quoted as having said: “No on Fast Track. . . . out of the question.” Enough said.
Each day we postpone signing free trade agreements we lose the potential to create millions of U.S. jobs. So it’s time to bite the bullet.

Despite the distrust Republicans have over granting Obama more power, the GOP must return to its historic roots as champions of free trade and its benefits to the economy. This means cutting taxes, reducing government barriers, boosting innovation, creating American jobs and spreading American values throughout the world.

This is an opportunity for Republicans to “own trade,” as it has over the past generations. What a mess it will create for Democrats when Republicans vote to give Obama TPA, when his own party turns their back on him.

Trade is too important to turn it into a political piƱata. Republicans must make a decisive statement that when free trade is allowed to take root, it helps every American.

With the upcoming negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link the NAFTA countries with 11 Pacific Rim countries, let’s see what the voting public thinks when the president’s own party stands in the way of a free trade agreement that would create millions of jobs and boost exports by billions of dollars.

Harking back to an old I Love Lucy show, the Democrats will have some “‘splaining to do.”

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