J. Michael Wahlen

Pressure Mounts on Obama to Submit Free Trade Agreements after Speech

Posted by J. Michael Wahlen on Friday, September 9th, 2011, 4:54 PM PERMALINK

Thursday, President Obama repeated his call for Congress to pass the Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea in his joint session speech to Congress.  This comes after weeks of stating that Republicans have failed to put “country ahead of party” by not passing the agreements.  Contrary to the president’s campaign rhetoric, however, the fault lies not with Republicans, who have vowed to approve the legislation, but with him and his party who have delayed submitting the legislation while holding out for a better deal for their union supporters. 

On Wednesday, House Republicans upped the ante by passing the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which allows specific goods from 120 different countries to be imported into the U.S. duty-free.  The passage of this bill is widely seen as a good-faith measure to show that Congress and the GOP are ready and willing to pass the FTAs.

Yet, President Obama has refused to submit the agreements until the House goes further and re-authorizes Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) at the 2009 stimulus spending levels. Pre-2009 TAA is still in place to assist workers who lose their job as a result of foreign competition. Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has even refused to allow for a vote on the FTAs until TAA is approved by the House.

While the GOP has rightly called TAA what it is – a handout to the President’s union “army”  – they are still willing to pass the agreements even if it means passing TAA.  This is because both the President and the GOP have realized the tremendous job-creating power of these agreements. The White House estimates that over 70,000 jobs could be created with just the South Korea agreement alone.

Nonetheless, the President and his party continue to prefer browbeating Congress for not passing the agreements to submitting them for a vote. It’s time the President acted on his speeches and submitted these agreements.

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Congress Advances on Free Trade Agreements while the President Stalls

Posted by J. Michael Wahlen on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011, 3:08 PM PERMALINK

Today, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson announced that there are enough votes in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives to pass free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.  This announcement places even greater pressure on President Obama to finally submit the agreements for a congressional vote.

The President has touted the agreements as job-creating measures since early 2011 and recently stated that the reason the agreements have not been passed was “the refusal by some in Congress to put country ahead of party.”   However, this claim continues to ring hollow considering the main holdup has been the president himself, who has delayed submitting the legislation due to a debate on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

The Administration currently seeks to raise the TAA levels back to the 2008 levels increased under the stimulus plan but expired earlier this year. While the Senate has largely agreed to the TAA levels requested by the President, the House has planned to take two separate votes, one on the free trade agreements, and the other on the TAA. 

TAA debates are no reason to delay the job-creating benefits of the free trade agreements. The Administration currently estimates that over 70,000 jobs would be created annually by the South Korean agreement alone.  Additionally, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the combined effect of all three agreements would be over $13 billion in increased exports annually. 

The delay in passing the agreements is costly to Americans. The lost savings due to the delay has reached over $46 million a month in lost wages and higher prices from trade barriers.  Meanwhile, while the U.S. hesitates, other countries such as Canada and the EU are moving forward with new free trade agreements and snapping up market share.

The U.S. cannot afford to delay any longer on these agreements. The Administration must submit all three agreements as soon as Congress returns from recess.

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