Friday, June 4, 2010

Playing Politics with US FTAs, the American Economy, and International Relations

Cato's Dan Griswold directs us today to another June letter from Congress asking the President to advance a pending US Free Trade Agreement.  This time, it's a bipartisan group of 39 House members, calling on President Obama to support the long-stalled US-Colombia FTA.  The full letter is available here (PDF), but here's the big finish:
As you know, in August of this year, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will end his second term and turn over office to a newly elected president.  This peaceful and orderly transition will continue Colombia's democratic tradition as Latin America's oldest democracy.  We believe the passage of the Agreement before August would be a fitting way to recognize our partnership and our commitment to common goals of democracy, sustainable development, and security.

For the benefit of our economy and our national security, we urge you to resolve any outstanding obstacles to the U.S-Colombian Trade Promotion Agreement, submit the agreement to Congress, and support its prompt approval. We believe the implementing legislation will have strong, bipartisan support in Congress, and we stand ready to work with you to ensure its passage.
Much like its June 1 counterpart in the Senate, this letter spotlights the economic and foreign policy benefits of the agreement, and it's a fine contribution to the political debate over these trade agreements.  And Griswold does a nice job reiterating just how far Colombia has come on the labor front, and showing thatthe letter demonstrates that FTA passage "need not be a partisan issue."

If only 13 of the June 1 letter's 16 Democrat signatories understood this latter point two years ago. 

As the Club for Growth's Andy Roth deftly points out, they weren't so hot on the FTA - or bipartisanship - back in April 2008.  At that time, Speaker Pelosi marshalled a hyper-partisan vote to scrap the strict legislative timelines under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and thus indefinitely shelve the Colombia FTA's implementing legislation, which was submitted in protest by President Bush after the Democrat-led Congress refused to give the White House any assurances or timelines about when they'd agree to vote on the trade deal (or any trade deal).  So Bush, in typical fashion, said damn-the-torpedoes and submitted the legislation anyway.  And instead of holding a vote on the FTA (and subjecting some of her union-beholden members to a tough vote in an election year), Pelosi held a sneaky procedural vote to dismantle TPA's timelines and thus leave the FTA legislation (and the Colombians) floating out there until it was terminated by the end of the congressional term.

You really can't get a more partisan vote than this one - a direct hit at the President that also would create cover for the all-important November election - and unfortunately, Andy shows us that Reps. Baird, Berkley, Dicks, Hinojosa, Kind, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz, Reyes, Sires (NV), Skelton, Smith, and Snyder chose politics over substance and voted for (or in Sires' case, refused to oppose) Pelosi's partisan hackery.  And in a close vote like this one (224-195) a little backbone by these Democrats would almost have made the difference (211-208) for the resolution and maybe, just maybe, the FTA itself (and, of course, the billions in unnecessary tariffs that US exporters have paid since that time).

So one cheer, I guess, for these folks stepping up now and supporting the Colombia FTA.  Too bad for the US and Colombian economies, as well as our important bilateral alliance, that they didn't step up when it actually counted.

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