As I have written before, free trade is one of the best, most surefire ways to grow the economy, put more money in people’s pockets, and create new jobs. So, while I am not surprised that the worst Senate majority leader in history is working to undermine free trade, I am disappointed. And I confess that I am more than a little angry too:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier.
Mr. Reid told reporters he opposed legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of free-trade agreements, a vital component to negotiating any deal, and pointedly said supporters should back down.
“I’m against fast track,” Mr. Reid (D., Nev.) said, using the shorthand term for legislation that prevents overseas trade agreements from being amended during the congressional approval process. “I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now.”
The move spells trouble for two sets of complicated talks, one with the European Union and the other with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Both deals likely would have required such a “fast track” approval to clear the Congress. The U.S.’s negotiating partners wouldn’t likely commit to a final agreement that could be unpopular back home without assurances that it couldn’t be modified by U.S. lawmakers.
One can easily divine the reason for this economically antediluvian stance:
Mr. Reid declined to say whether he would stop fast-track legislation from coming up for a Senate floor vote, but other senators said his opposition was important. “You can kiss any new trade deals goodbye,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas.) “I think the majority leader’s focus is on the November elections and he doesn’t want to expose his vulnerable members to controversial votes.” Added Gary Hufbauer, senior trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington: “It’s a one-two punch against trade policy,” he said.
(Emphasis mine.) It’s more than a little ironic that Reid’s opposition to fast-track legislation stems from his desire to allow trade deals to be amended in Congress; Reid has angered Senate Republicans by refusing to let them offer amendments to legislation, thus seeking to deny Republicans just about any say in the legislative process in the Senate. Incidentally, it is worth noting that Reid’s “one-two punch against trade policy” is also an attempt to undermine the foreign policy of a president from his own party. Andrew Sullivan is more than a little fond of fulminating against such behavior when it comes to Democrats trying to pass the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would reinstate sanctions against Iran. One wonders why he is silent here. Is it because he can’t find any evidence of the Israel lobby being behind Reid’s move?