Free Trade Agreements

Floor Speech

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: Oct. 4, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, there is a lot of talk these days about how Washington is broken and how, unless we do something to fix it, the solutions to our most urgent problems will remain out of reach. The fact is, that is not really true. Congress is not frozen in a state of perpetual gridlock, and the now imminent passage of three long-awaited free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea shows it.

For 2 1/2 years, I and other Republicans have stated as clearly as we could to anyone who would listen that we are willing and eager to work with the Democrats on legislation on which we know both sides agree. Free-trade agreements fall squarely into that category. That is why I have been calling on the President to approve them since his very first day in office. Yet, for reasons I will touch on in a moment, he has actually held back.

It is true that the President had to be convinced of the importance of these agreements. After all, he ran for office promising to renegotiate NAFTA. But once he did come around, his reluctance to act became an emblem for the administration's entire approach to jobs in which results have taken a back seat to ideology. All the President had to do was to follow through on his own pledge--send these trade agreements to Congress--and we would have had an early bipartisan achievement which didn't add a single dime to the deficit and which, by his own estimates, would protect tens of thousands of jobs right here at home. Instead, the President passed over what could have been a job-creating, bipartisan layup and devoted the first weeks of his Presidency to a highly partisan stimulus that has since become a national punch line.

So now, 2 1/2 years after the stimulus was signed into law, there are 1.7 million fewer jobs in America, and the President is just this week getting around to free-trade agreements we all knew would create jobs, all of which raises a question: Why didn't we do this sooner? I think there are two reasons we didn't do it sooner.

First, the White House was under pressure from unions that don't like free trade. They have been extracting promises from the White House for 2 1/2 years in exchange for their support. That is one reason.

The second reason the White House didn't send these agreements up sooner is that the political operators over at the White House seem to believe they benefit from the appearance--the appearance--of gridlock. They are over there telling any reporter who will listen that they plan to run against Congress next year. Their communications director said as much to the New York Times 2 weeks ago.

So that is their explicit strategy--to make people believe Congress can't get anything done. How do they make sure of that? Well, they do that by proposing legislation they know the other side won't support even when there is an entire menu of bipartisan proposals the President could choose to pursue instead. How else do we explain the President's standing before the country in January extolling the job-creating potential of these free-trade agreements, asking Congress to pass them as soon as possible, and then sitting on them until yesterday, preventing Congress from taking the vote? How else do we explain the fact that the President spent the past few weeks running around the country demanding that Congress pass a so-called jobs bill right away even as leading members of his own party admit the Democrats wouldn't have the votes to get it through Congress even if it came to the floor? As one senior Democratic aide put it yesterday: ``Nobody is all that excited about the President's jobs bill.''

That is how to create dysfunction--by refusing to acknowledge that we live under a two-party system in this country and that as long as we do, the two parties will have to cooperate to some extent in order to get legislation through Congress. It is the refusal to accept this reality that leads to inaction. The President can govern as though this is the Congress he wants or he can deal with the Congress he has. Along the first path lies gridlock, and along the second lies the kind of legislative progress Americans want. As for Republicans, well, we have been crystal clear from the outset that we prefer the latter route.

So this morning, I reiterate the same plea I have consistently made for the past 2 1/2 years. My suggestion to the President is that he put aside proposals for which we know there is bipartisan opposition and focus instead on proposals on which we know both sides can agree. Free-trade agreements are a good first step, but they are just that--a first step. If we are going to tackle the enormous challenges we face, we need to come together on much more than that. There is bipartisan agreement, for instance, on the need to increase domestic energy exploration, to reverse job-killing regulations, and to reform the corporate tax code so we are more competitive. If the White House really wants to make a statement, it will work with us on all of these issues. If it doesn't, Americans will only conclude that it would rather have an issue to run on than an impact.

With these trade agreements, we are showing we can work together to create jobs and help the economy, and it is something we should do a lot more of around here.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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