The biggest free-trade pacts since NAFTA were passed by the House Wednesday night, with the Senate likely to follow. As a result, America will reap 250,000 jobs and $13 billion in exports. Where are the celebrations?
The strangest aspect of the passage of free trade treaties with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, with final votes taken after five long years, is the disconnect between the big economic gains expected for the U.S., and the reticence of congressional Democrats and the White House, both of which finally got something right on the economy.
As we went to press, the pacts had been passed by the House, with the Senate expected to vote soon. With bipartisanship like that, lawmakers should be cheering loudly for a true “jobs bill” that costs nothing.
Yet as a Democratic aide told Roll Call on Wednesday, “Republicans don’t want to give the president a victory, Democrats are split and everyone is distracted.”
Excuse us, but this is some of the best economic news in three years. It deserves a victory dance.
It’s a fact these treaties will bring new orders for factories, save family farms, strengthen strategic alliances with countries well worth having as allies, and open up breathtaking new opportunities in fast-growing markets. It needs to be acknowledged.
But to see Democrats’ reluctance to pass this bill was disappointing. They voted hastily in the night, and positioned it along with a vote on an economically toxic, protectionist “sweetener” bill that may start a trade war with China.
They shouldn’t need to duck for political cover. They don’t require a fig leaf for the vote. Free trade is good.
And that’s the only rueful thing about these pacts. Not only did the U.S. gain nothing from delaying and amending the treaties for five years, but the very idea of free trade never got the leadership and support it deserved.
President Obama paid lip service to the treaties, but wasted nearly three years attaching protectionist amendments and dithering. It harmed the economy and never changed this fact: Free trade had to pass if there was to be a real recovery.
If anything is to be learned from this debacle, it’s that free trade, and all its benefits, demands a strong political voice. Let’s hope the next president is willing to stand up proudly for it — and the growth it brings.