Monday, August 15, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Back to School?

     A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled "Trade Policy 101" calling out President Obama for urging Congress to send him the three long-pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. As I pointed out then, lawmakers can’t send the President the trade agreements until he first formally submits them to Congress.
     In that blog, I also wrote that "of course, the President knows perfectly well how the ‘fast track’ legislative process under Trade Promotion Authority works. He was simply trying to shorthand a complicated procedural issue" for a non-policy wonk audience while shifting the blame for the delay in action on the FTA’s to Congressional Republicans.
     But now I’m starting to wonder...
     In multiple speeches since then, the President has made the same call on Congress to send him the free trade agreements – as though their fate is completely out of his hands. His comments may just be about making Republicans look bad, but it appears that at least some in the White House really don’t know how the "fast track" process works – or where the FTAs are in the process.
     That became clear last Friday when White House Spokesman Josh Earnest – in response to a question about why the President keeps telling Congress to move the FTAs when he hasn’t submitted them – asked "Have we not sent them over?" The official White House transcript of the daily briefing notes that Mr. Earnest’s question prompted laughter.
     In his defense, the spokesman acknowledged that he is "not intimately steeped in" the legislative mechanics. He continued by saying there is clearly agreement between the White House and both Congressional Republicans and Democrats about the benefits of the FTAs "and it’s something that we should move on really quick."
     And that brings us right back to President Obama. If the FTAs are so important to US economic growth – as the President keeps saying – surely, he will submit them next month as soon as Congress returns from its summer break.
     But again today, even as I’m writing this blog, President Obama kicked off a three-day bus tour of the Midwest focused on the economy by once again telling Congress to pass the FTAs, saying "that’s something that Congress could do right now."
     So maybe it is time for the President to take a refresher course in Trade Policy 101 to make sure he understands that no matter how many times he asks, Congress cannot send him the FTAs until he sends them up to the Hill.

Mary Berger

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