Obama's free-trade challenge
The Obama administration is negotiating new trade and investment agreements with 28 European nations and 11 Asian nations. These huge trade deals are vitally important to South Carolina and all other states seeking economic growth and jobs. But they will languish if, contrary to President Barack Obama's request, Congress wraps them in red tape.
Unfortunately, that is just what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have promised to do. There is little question that they are trying to kill these trade deals in order to keep union funds flowing into the Democrats' war chest for the 2014 Congressional elections.
The president should remind his party colleagues that their best chances in November lie in fostering more economic prosperity as soon as possible - and that free trade is a crucial asset in that task.
Last fall, President Obama asked Congress to renew his Trade Promotion Authority, a procedure known as "fast track" that requires Congress to have a single up-or-down vote on proposed trade agreements.
Having the authority in hand, the president's negotiators can promise potential trade partners that Congress will not unravel agreements they have reached.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Congress will accept the agreements, and in the past the legislative body has sent some trade pacts back for renegotiation.
But in the absence of the "fast track" status, U.S. trade negotiators work at a disadvantage.
President Obama repeated his request for Trade Promotion Authority in last month's State of the Union speech.
But Sen. Reid soon responded, "I'm against fast track." He then made it clear that the fall elections were on his mind by adding: "Everyone would be well advised just not to push this right now."
Last week, Rep. Pelosi also embraced the red tape, asserting: "We're the party of free trade, fair trade, and we believe the global economy is here to stay, and we're part of it."
Yet she said the bill to provide the president with his requested fast track authority "in its present form is unacceptable to me."
And last weekend even Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at a Democratic Party retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore, seemed to signal his support for putting the president's trade authority request on the shelf. As Mr. Biden put it: "I know it's not coming up now."
The vice president's office did predictably retreat from that position Monday, announcing that he fully backs the president's free trade efforts.
However, if there were any lingering question about the Democratic Party's decision to duck the trade promotion issue this year, it was put to rest by President Obama's decision not to raise the issue at all during the Democratic retreat.
That's a shame. The president continues to talk a good game about clearing obstacles to job creation.
Yet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is clearly a job killer. The Obama administration also continues to drag its feet on a long-overdue approval for the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
But the president himself has correctly stressed the link between free trade and American jobs. He should persist in that argument by taking on his own party's congressional leaders.