Trade Agreements Pass Congress
The Senate began consideration of 3 district judge nominees and will vote on them later today. Also, this afternoon, Senators will go to the House Chamber for a Joint Meeting of Congress with the President of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. Then later today, the Senate could begin consideration of appropriations bills.
Today, the House is scheduled to vote on HR 358, the "Protect Life Act" which would prohibit federal funds from being used to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion services.
The House Judiciary Committee passed by voice vote ; H.R. 2471. The bill would let consumers give one-time online consent to release their rental data. Often referred to as the NetFlix bill because of complaints by NetFlix that technology has changed and peoples needs and desires have changed. A 1988 law bared disclosure of movie-rental information without a customer’s written consent and people are using FaceBook and other social networks to access videos. H.R. 2471 must still pass Congress on its own or as part of another bill.
Yesterday, the US Senate voted 83-15 to pass H.R. 3080, the South Korea Free Trade Agreement; 77-22 to pass H.R. 3079, the Panama Free Trade Agreement; and 66-33 to pass H.R. 3078, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The US House voted 262-167 to pass the Colombia agreement, 300-129 to pass the Panama agreement, and 278-151 to pass the South Korea agreement. After holding on to the agreements since he came to office and with high unemployment President Obama now identified these trade agreements as important in providing a $13 Billion boost in U.S. exports. While the agreements received bipartisan support, liberal "extreme" Democrats and unions opposed the agreements fearing loss of union jobs. The word "extreme" was used in the prior sentence to align with Sen. Schumer and the DNC policy to call everything supported by the Republicans as "extreme."
Reuters reports, “The Congress on Wednesday approved long-delayed trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that are expected to lift exports by about $13 billion a year and give U.S. employment a boost."
Of course it’s worth recalling that these free trade agreements were initially negotiated by President George W. Bush, but when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, they shelved the deals. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) even went out of her way to block a vote on the Colombia agreement. When President Obama took office, Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, emphasized the free trade agreements as something they were eager to work with the president on. Yet, at the behest of unions opposed to the deals, the Obama administration insisted on renegotiating them, delaying approval for years. Then, when the president finally had trade agreements he was comfortable with signing, he delayed submitting them to Congress, demanding, again because of the calls from Big Labor, that the trade agreements wait for the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance. And during that time, President Obama was touring the country, calling for Congress to pass trade agreements he still wouldn’t send to the Hill.
As a consequence of these delays, other countries signed free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, and U.S. products lost market share. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) explained to reporters yesterday, “[I]t's unfortunate that it took nearly 1,000 days for him to get these trade agreements up here, but now finally we're going to have an opportunity to give American businesses and American farmers and ranchers a chance to grow their businesses and to create more American jobs. Just as an example, Canada entered into a free trade agreement with Colombia on August the 15th, and since that trade agreement was implemented, they've already increased their wheat exports to Colombia by 18.3 percent.”
The New York Times described yesterday’s events: “Congress passed three long-awaited free trade agreements on Wednesday, ending a political standoff that has stretched across two presidencies. The move offered a rare moment of bipartisan accord at a time when Republicans and Democrats are bitterly divided over the role that government ought to play in reviving the sputtering economy.”
Speaking on the Senate floor prior to the vote, Leader McConnell emphasized the bipartisan nature of the agreements but signaled his frustration with Democrats’ overriding emphasis on messaging. "[W]e could get a lot more done up here if the President and the Democrats who control the Senate would move away from the left fringe and stop insisting on partisan bills that are designed to fail. If they agreed to that, then this Democrat-led Senate would be a lot more productive.”
Yet, Democrats continue to be focused on sending partisan messages than on working together to create jobs. Roll Call reports, “After Republicans and two Democrats filibustered the [president’s stimulus] bill Tuesday, Democrats and the White House indicated they would break it up to bring to the floor separately. The idea is to force Republicans to block individual items — a payroll tax cut, infrastructure spending, etc. — that have broad support. Either Democrats will try to get the GOP to crack on a smaller piece, or they can go to the public and paint the Republicans as the do-nothing party.”
Also according to Roll Call, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) bragged, “‘We are going to be labeling “tea party economics,” “tea party double-dip recession,” “tea party gridlock.” And we think that that is going to have a real effect,’ Schumer, the majority’s Conference vice chairman and chief messaging strategist, told a breakfast roundtable hosted by Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.” Schumer, of course, has a long track record of putting an emphasis on partisan talking points.
As Leader McConnell said yesterday, “The Senior Senator from New York made it pretty clear yesterday that he’s more interested in drawing a contrast with Republicans than he is in actually passing bipartisan legislation that we know will spur job growth. But I don’t believe the 14 million Americans looking for work right now care more about contrasts than jobs . . . .As I see it, the President has a choice. He can spend the next 13 months trying to get Republicans to vote against legislation that won’t create sustainable private sector jobs and which is designed to fail in Congress, or he can work with us on legislation that will actually encourage small businesses to create jobs and is actually designed to pass.”
On another note, overseas press continues to take note of Speaker Boehners opposition to the Senate "China currency" bill. Business Day reported that House Speaker John Boehner opposed the Senate approved bill that "would allow the US to put countervailing duties on products from countries [primarily China] found to be subsidising their exports by undervaluing their currencies." Boehner said the bill poses "a 'very severe risk' of a trade war and should not be taken up by the US Congress."
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