Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trade Policy 101 -- Failing Grade

The White House photo below is of President Obama posing with members of a Galesburg, Illinois, high school football team during the final day of his three-day Midwest bus tour Wednesday.

If the President were a high school student today, he probably would not be eligible to be on the football team because most schools require passing grades in order to participate in organized school sports.

Mr. Obama so far is getting an "F" in Trade Policy 101.

Twice again yesterday in "Town Hall" appearances in his home state of Illinois, the President got his legislative process wrong. In both speeches he again called on Congress to pass the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, saying that Congress "right now" could be voting on the trade deals.

Wrong again. As I’ve pointed out in two previous blogs, Congress cannot vote on the trade deals "right now" or ever, until President Obama sends the implementing legislation to Capitol Hill. So the ball, as they say, is in the President’s court – although that’s another sport.

Ever since lawmakers left town for the August break, the President has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the three FTAs and has made clear that he sees the trade deals as a key part of his economic recovery strategy.

But what he has yet to say is that he actually intends to submit the FTAs to Congress, so that the votes can take place. Perhaps he is saving that announcement for the major speech on job creation that the President intends to make right after Labor Day.

An exchange earlier this week between chief White House spokesman Jay Carney and reporters suggests the White House is still not ready to submit the FTAs (or "TFAs", as Mr. Carney called them) because there is still no deal on renewal of expired Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits. Mr. Carney also suggests to reporters that the Treasury Department is in charge of both the trade deals and TAA, which should come as a surprise to both the US Trade Representative’s office and the Department of Labor.

Here’s the official White House transcript:
Q One other small point -- the President has called for patent reform and passage of the trade bills. And Republicans in Congress are saying we’re planning a vote on patent reform as soon as Congress comes back, and the President hasn’t submitted the trade bills, so why does he keep calling for these two items if they’re --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re glad that the Congress will vote on the patent reform and hope they will. We’ve been calling for it for quite a while and hope they finally will vote on it. That’s a good sign. That will be a helpful thing if that takes place.
And on the trade bills, we’ve said all along that we need to take action and we need to get an agreement with Congress on the submission process. We’ve made a lot of progress in our dealings with the Senate leaders, and hope and expect that that will -- process will be resolved and we’ll get this done, because we definitely agree that passing those trade bills and making sure we have a process that allows for the TFAs [sic] and the TAA to go forward will be very beneficial to the economy.
Q So this is basically a sequencing issue, Jay, getting the TAA passed first and then getting the --
MR. CARNEY: It’s not -- how the process itself works, I might steer you to Treasury on that. But it’s just -- it’s working out an agreement. We’ve made some progress. We’re working out an agreement with Congress for submission.

Failing grades all around so far. Let’s see if the President and his staff can do some homework and bring up that grade point average before it’s too late.

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