In his jobs speech last week, President Obama demanded that Congress pass his new stimulus proposals “right away.” This was his constant refrain: right away, right away, right away.
On a key proposal aimed to appeal to Republicans - free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama - Mr. Obama is the very person who was and still is preventing a vote.
Congress does not have the legal authority to vote on that stimulus proposal until Mr. Obama officially submits the agreements to Congress.
In his State of the Union address in 2010, Mr. Obama appealed for congressional approval of the trade deals, but it was he who chose not to allow Congress to vote for that entire year, even though he had said the agreements would create jobs.
In his State of the Union address this year, Mr. Obama once again implored Congress to act on the job-creating agreements. But rather than move forward to create jobs, he did nothing in February.
In March, April and May, the president chose to make it impossible for Congress to act on creating jobs. In May, June and July, as the economy sputtered and a growing consensus emerged that the United States could slip into a double-dip recession, Mr. Obama decided it would be better to do nothing.
In August, after Mr. Obama learned that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded America’s debt, he chose to go on vacation rather than allow Congress to act on the job-creating trade agreements he had endorsed more than 18 months before.
It’s hard to understand why the president hasn’t submitted the agreements to Congress already because he seems to understand that exports create jobs. At least that’s what he has said repeatedly. Indeed, figures from his own trade website reveal that the South Korea agreement alone would create more than 60,000 jobs. That’s 60,000 jobs we could have had two years ago.
Some pundits have speculated that Mr. Obama plans to wage a Truman-style re-election campaign, meaning that he intends to run against a “do-nothing Congress.”
When it comes to trade, however, he’s a do-nothing president. He talks and talks and talks - and Congress waits and waits and waits for him to submit the agreements he continues to praise.
If Mr. Obama submits the agreements, and Congress falls into gridlock, then the president will have a case. Until then, however, he may want to cut back on the lectures about what must be done “right away.”
Perhaps the presidential candidates could exert some pressure. So far, however, they haven’t seized the opportunity. Trade barely came up last week when eight of them gathered for a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. And almost nothing was said on Monday night, when they faced off at a Tea Party debate hosted by CNN. Only Michele Bachmann made a specific reference to the free-trade agreements.
With the exception of Ron Paul, who has opposed many trade agreements during his career in Congress, all of the GOP contenders probably favor the accords with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Yet only Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has done more than offer cursory support. On Aug. 31, his campaign website posted a document that calls for passage of the three deals Mr. Obama says he wants. Mr. Huntsman even takes it a step further, saying he would seek new agreements with India, Japan and Taiwan.
One candidate isn’t enough. These Republicans are auditioning for leader of the Free World, and they need to tell us how they would lead on free trade.
They could pledge to submit the three pending trade deals to Congress on Jan. 20, 2013 - in other words, on Day One of a new presidential administration. That would let voters know where they stand and lock them into a useful promise.
Perhaps their words would even compel Mr. Obama to act.
That would be the best result of all. As Mr. Obama himself said in his speech, Americans in need of work “don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months” until the next election.
No, they don’t, Mr. President. So what are you waiting for? Why did you choose to let them wait a lot longer than 14 months?
Read your own speech and send those trade agreements to Congress “right away.”
Dean Kleckner is chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology (truthabouttrade.org).
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