In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for both parties to work together to pass trade promotion legislation that could “open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA’” and generate more jobs here in the U.S.
But then, less than 24 hours after the president’s call for bipartisan action, the Senate majority leader -- a fellow Democrat -- delivered what one newspaper called a “body blow” to compromise on trade. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada suggested he wouldn’t even allow the trade legislation to come up for discussion -- effectively telling the president and pro-trade Democrats and Republicans to sit down and be quiet.
Why? Because powerful special interests oppose legislation that would increase U.S. exports. Because influential allies on the left can’t reconcile their obsolete ideological theories with the reality of America’s 21st-century economy.
Well, maybe Democratic leaders in Washington, such as the Senate majority leader, are content to cede trade jobs to other countries -- but I’m not. Neither is my party. Republicans want those jobs right here in the U.S.
“China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines,” Obama said in his address Tuesday night. “Neither should we.”
The president and I might not always see eye to eye, but he’s spot-on here. Republicans and Democrats should be working together to pass the trade legislation necessary to rev up our economy and get more Americans to work in the industries of the future. Trade has never been more important to our economy. It supports tens of millions of jobs (almost 500,000 in Kentucky alone), represents about a third of our economy and holds the key to putting many more Americans to work.
About 95 percent of the potential customers for American-made goods live beyond our borders; obviously, we need to break down the antiquated barriers preventing U.S. businesses from reaching more of those customers if we want to create more jobs at home.
We could be achieving that goal -- if leaders in the president’s party would stop standing in the way.
One agreement being negotiated would expand American export opportunities in advanced economies within the European Union. Another would open access to a vast number of countries in the Asian-Pacific region -- linking 12 countries that make up about 40 percent of the global economy. Given that two-thirds of my state’s exports go to Asian-Pacific markets, Kentucky workers, farm families and small businesses stand to benefit enormously from the approval of a trade deal. That goes for the rest of the country, too.
It will be next to impossible to secure these deals if Democratic leaders in Washington refuse to help us act. This is where the president comes in. He keeps saying that the U.S. needs a “year of action,” and keeps promising to use his pen and his phone to make that happen.
Well, it’s time to prove he’s serious and pick up that phone to call Democratic leaders in Washington and their special-interest allies who are standing in the way of more American jobs.
This has to be done now because Obama has refused to lead on this issue for too long and has allowed the U.S. to stand idly by as other countries scoop up jobs and growth that should be ours.
That is no longer acceptable.
Republicans will do our part. But if the president is serious about seeing more exports stamped “Made in the USA,” he has to push his party and lead.
(Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the Senate Republican leader.)
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Alex Bruns at email@example.com