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.