Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mr. Obama’s Trade Agency Reorganization – DOA on the Hill, But It May Play in Peoria

Initial reaction from Congress to President Obama’s trade agencies consolidation proposal indicates pretty strongly that the plan will be "dead on arrival" on Capitol Hill. The idea of merging the small but effective US Trade Representative’s office into a new super-department, which also would include the trade agencies of the current Commerce Department, the US Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Small Business Administration and the US Trade and Development Agency – apparently makes lawmakers and much of the business community uncomfortable.

Even if lawmakers liked the reorganization plan in principle, it’s hard to believe that the White House for one minute believes that the Republican-controlled House – which has been butting heads with Mr. Obama over almost every significant issue that arises – would embrace the idea of giving a Democratic President sweeping new powers to not just consolidate but create new federal agencies and departments.

So the trade agency reorganization – whatever its merits – is probably not going anywhere.

But what it does give the President is a potentially potent talking point he can take on the campaign trail this summer. No, the average American voter has no idea what USTR or OPIC or TDA are, let alone care whether they’re separate agencies or part of a bigger department. But the average voter does care about the size of government and perceived government waste – in other words how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Now the President can go on the campaign trail and tell voters how he wants to downsize government, get rid of redundant programs and save taxpayer dollars – but Republicans are standing in the way. Mr. Obama can wrap himself in the mantle of leaner government that Republicans usually claim for themselves – and will have a ready response to any charges from whoever ends up as the Republican Presidential candidate that he favors big government.

It also appears to put President Obama on the right side of business – even though US business has serious concerns with some aspects of his proposed reorganization. Mr. Obama is selling his plan as aimed at making the government more responsive to the needs of business – particularly smaller firms. By setting up a one-stop shop that will walk business through the entire process of selling their goods overseas – from identifying foreign buyers to helping finance sales, which by the way is already in place at least in theory – the President is arguing that the US government can be a major boost behind creating more exports and hence new American jobs.

So President Obama can tell voters that he is trying to make the government smaller, save taxpayer dollars and create new jobs – but Republicans are standing in his way. That’s a pretty good argument to take out on the campaign trail and one that may "play in Peoria" even if its DOA in DC.

Mary Berger

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