In a hard-hitting editorial, the Washington Post derided the Obama administration’s “equivocation” over the pending Colombia and Panama free trade agreements (FTAs). It quoted White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs as claiming that the reason the president won’t be sending up the FTAs any time soon is that (even in the new Republican-controlled House in the next Congress) “they don’t command majority support.”
The Post is too polite to say it, but Gibbs’ statement is patently false and a cynically deceptive explanation. During and since the 1990s (even with Bill Clinton, whom they detested as president) between two-thirds and three-quarters of House Republicans could be counted as supporting new FTAs. In the new Congress, incoming Republican Ways and Means Committee trade leaders, Representatives Dave Camp (R-Michigan), and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) have vowed to move all three pending agreements—Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Doubters regarding the votes for Panama and Colombia refer vaguely to alleged anti-globalization, anti-trade attitudes of the incoming Tea Party freshmen. No doubt a few new Republicans will be trade skeptics, though more from their geographic base (Southern districts still dependent on textile manufacturing) than from Tea Party dogma. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Camp stated recently, however, that he had canvassed a number of these freshmen and had found no large-scale animus against trade.
Interestingly, also, out of nowhere, in her letter to Republican freshmen, Sarah Palin not only espoused free trade as a principle but also urged the new congressmen to support all three pending FTAs.
With a 242 majority, House Republicans could drop 20 or so votes from their caucus and still prevail on the FTAs, and this doesn’t count the remaining members of the New Democratic Coalition, who have expressed support for the agreements (the NDC lost 20 of 70 signed-up members).
The bottom line is that no one can force the president to send the two FTAs for a congressional vote—but the administration should not be allowed to hide behind a trumped-up, “ridiculous” excuse.