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United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we are on the verge of doing something very important for our country tonight, and we are going to do it on a bipartisan basis. I wish to congratulate the chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus, for the role he played and for the constructive efforts by Senator Portman and Senator Blunt to help us get to this evening. But I wish to single out for special praise our leader on this issue, Senator Hatch, the ranking member of our Finance Committee, who has been a stalwart on behalf of free trade over the years.

I think it is appropriate to take a moment before the vote to note the importance of what we are doing. The first point to make about these agreements is that they will help American businesses create new jobs in the United States. The second point to make is there is strong bipartisan support for all three of these agreements. In other words, anyone who says that two parties can't agree on anything isn't telling the whole story.

Consider this: On the very day Democrats and Republicans were planning to come together to vote in favor of these trade agreements, Democrats spent the entire morning talking about what a shame it is that it never happens--that we never get together. Clearly, this vote is getting in the way of their political message, and that message is kind of absurd to watch.

Frankly, I think it would be a lot less confusing for anybody watching at home--not to mention a lot better for job creation--if our friends on the other side would agree to work with us more often on a bipartisan basis, as we have done on the bills before us. Our friends on the other side may think it helps them politically for Americans to think we don't cooperate, but what I am seeing is that the vote we are about to take shows that is simply not true.

We could get a lot more done up here if the President and our friends who control the Senate would move away from the left fringe and stop insisting on partisan bills that are designed to fail. If they agreed to that, then this Democratically led Senate would be a lot more productive.

Here is why these trade agreements are so important. First, they lower the barriers to selling American-made goods to consumers in other countries. On a variety of agricultural and manufactured goods, those tariff barriers are completely and totally eliminated, and increasing exports is crucial to growing the economy in States such as Kentucky, where nearly one-fifth of manufacturing workers depend on exports for their jobs.

It isn't just manufacturing that will benefit. America's service and technological sectors--where we are global leaders--will gain greater access to these foreign markets and strong assurances that the legal environment will not change to disadvantage U.S. firms. So passing these trade agreements will mean more U.S. exports and more U.S. jobs.

The total value of exports just from my own State of Kentucky currently totals more than $19 billion. With these trade agreements, that number will only grow, increasing demand for Kentucky-made goods even more. What is more, the vast majority of Kentucky companies that export goods overseas--80 percent of them--are small- and medium-sized businesses.

So the question is, Do we want small businesses in Kentucky and other States finding new customers for their goods in these growing economies or do we want to cede those customers to other countries that are only too happy to exploit the advantages they had before today?

These agreements are good news for American businesses looking to expand the market for their goods, and they are good news for all the American workers who benefit when those businesses are able to compete on a level playing field with workers in other countries.

While we have waited to pass these agreements, America's competitors overseas have increased their share of the markets in Panama, in Colombia and in South Korea and operated without the barriers American job creators have faced prior to tonight. Today, we are leveling the playing field, and when the playing field is level, we know American workers and American businesses and farmers will come out on top. They just needed us to clear the way.

Personally, I have never voted against a free-trade agreement, and I hope we will consider others in the near future.

Now that we have finally finished the business of the last administration's trade efforts, President Obama needs to think about what the trade agenda of his administration is going to be moving forward. Will he let America fall behind our competitors or will he embrace a proactive free-trade agenda that he knows will help create jobs here at home and project American influence around the world? For our part, Senate Republicans are ready to work with him on an even more robust trade agenda, one which involves reauthorizing a stronger TPA and which helps him help the economy in a bipartisan way, just as we are doing tonight.

This is a very important vote. It shows that the two parties can, in fact, work together to help American businesses create jobs, and I hope it leads to a lot more of the same.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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