Friday, January 31, 2014

déja vu – all over again or tpa-ja vu ?

Are Democrats all the same?   When it comes to the last two Presidents – absolutely YES!

Some thoughts on Tuesday’s State of the Union Address  –  of the 50 lines in the speech, two were devoted to trade – or about 0.4 percent, which is about how much attention the President devotes to thinking about trade.
A studious critic of free trade agreements told me after the speech that she was listening carefully.  After the President’s references to small business, she sneezed and missed the entire section on trade.
Another veteran trade journalist likened President Obama’s trade reference to a “drive-by” shooting.

As for Democrats being the same.  We came across two WTD articles from July 1998, when that other great champion of trade, Bill Clinton, was sitting at his White House desk.  (Doing what, we dare not say).

Washington Trade Daily    July 8, 1998
Sen. Lott Says Clinton `Blew It’ on Fast Track
President Clinton “blew it” when he passed up a chance earlier this week to throw his support behind an effort to get legislation renewing Presidential fast track trade negotiating authority past Congress this year (WTD, 7/1/98), Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) said yesterday.
The Republican Leader said he is frustrated by the White House’s lack of enthusiasm for his and House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga) proposal to push through fast track before the end of the Congressional session.  Sen. Lott said he is ready to move ahead on a package combining fast track (S 1269) with the Africa Economic Growth and Opportunity Act (S 778) (WTD, 7/1/98) and Caribbean Basin Initiative parity legislation (S 1278) (WTD, 7/1/98).  He also confirmed he is willing to have the Senate act first in hopes of boosting support for fast track in the House.  But President Clinton’s apparent lack of interest may de-rail that plan, he said.
“Clinton had the opportunity to say something strong about fast track and he didn’t,” Mr. Lott told WTD.   If the President is not willing to take the lead on fast track, the measure may be doomed for this year ‒ along with the Africa and CBI parity bills, he said.
There is no question that fast track would pass in the Senate by a strong margin if it were brought to the floor, Mr. Lott said, although he did not rule out the possibility that some Democrats might try to block a vote.  The Majority Leader noted, however, that the Senate has fallen far behind in its work on appropriations bills and if some real progress is not made on that front in the next week or two there may, indeed, not be enough time left in the session to do anything of substance.
On the House side, support for fast track is less certain.  But Mr. Gingrich last week announced he had found a way to squeeze out enough votes by amending the legislation to give the House and Senate Agriculture committees the same review status enjoyed by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
Also commenting to reporters yesterday, Commerce Secretary William Daley said he did not see how a majority in the House could be garnered to pass fast track.  This is not the time to do it ‒ with just 38 days of the legislative session left and prior to an important mid-term Congressional election.
Mr. Daley suggested that Republicans were playing “politics” with the issue.
Congress, instead, should focus on fully funding the International Monetary Fund and complete action on a subSaharan African trade bill.

Washington Trade Daily   July 10, 1998
Clinton Still Backs Fast Track ‒ But Not Now
Getting fast track trade negotiating authority renewed for himself remains a top priority for the President, but the Administration does not intend to push for Congressional consideration of a bill (HR 2621, S 1269) until there are enough votes for passage (WTD, 7/6/98), US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said yesterday.
Testifying to the Senate Finance Committee on US-China relations (see related report this issue), the top US trade official said the Administration does not intend “to put a fast track bill up for sport.”  She admitted that the problem of gaining sufficient support is on the House side of the Capitol.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) assured the witness that, indeed, the votes will not be “there” until the Administration commits to another effort at passing the bill, which stalled last year.  He said the Clinton Administration has the dubious honor of “stopping in its tracks” a 50-year evolution of a movement toward free trade that began in the first Roosevelt Administration in 1934.
Ms. Barshefsky downplayed the immediacy of fast track.  She told the committee that lack of the special trade negotiating authority has only affected one major trade initiative so far ‒ negotiation of a free trade agreement with Chile.  The rest of the Administration’s trade agenda ‒ including a start to the new round of multilateral trade negotiations, a formal beginning of Free Trade Area of the Americas talks and several sectoral agreements on basic telecommunications, financial services and information technology as well as similar efforts within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum continue.
Nonetheless, Ms. Barshefsky agreed that nothing will be accomplished on fast track without Administration leadership.

Jim Berger

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