By Elaine Chao
President Obama may have predicted gloom and doom when his “jobs bill,” sequel to the trillion-dollar 2009 stimulus bill, failed to pass. But its defeat is actually good news for America’s near- and long-term economic prospects.
Other good news came when Congress ratified three free-trade agreements that will create lasting jobs. They had been stalled for years because of the president’s inaction. Let’s hope the White House learns the right lesson from the jobs-bill episode, and that these welcome advancements toward free trade begin a trend.
The president’s latest stimulus-jobs plan was a distressingly familiar hodge-podge. There was class warfare (tax increases), special-interest giveaways (”infrastructure bank”), unsustainable spending (propping up unionized state and local government payrolls) and political stunts (ludicrously inadequate hiring tax credit and protectionist “Buy America” provisions).
Announced in a hastily-called post-Labor Day televised joint session of Congress before the bill was even drafted, the president’s plan was haunted from the get-go by the air of re-election campaign desperation, the track record of previous policy failure, and the half-trillion dollar price tag.
Even with 23 million Americans and their families suffering so personally from the lack of job creation, there still was not a critical mass of support for a presidential “jobs plan.” That certainly attests to a widespread lack of faith in its content.
Yet even amid the fog of Washington rancor and rhetoric these past few months, some real bipartisan progress was made in an arena critical to America’s near- and long-term economic prosperity. That was the belated ratification of the Korea, Panama and Columbia free-trade agreements. President Obama has long spoken eloquently on the virtues of free-trade agreements.
Before the London G-20 summit in 2009, the president declared: “We should embrace a collective commitment to encourage open trade and investment, while resisting the protectionism that would deepen this crisis.”
Experts at the U.S. International Trade Commission anticipate that the trade agreement with South Korea alone could foster 280,000 jobs for Americans and boost U.S. exports by more than $12 billion. Columbia is the third largest economy in Central and South America and there will no longer be tariffs on 80 percent of the consumer and industrial goods that the U.S. exports there. Panama will eliminate 88 percent of that country’s tariffs on U.S. consumer and industrial goods.
To help America’s unemployed, in these trade agreements should be the seeds of a new administration approach to economic recovery. This administration has been unrelentingly hostile to America’s private sector, and workers suffer for it. To promote American competitiveness and job creation, the administration should advance more trade agreements and start providing America’s private sector immediate and significant relief from punitive and unpredictable taxation and excessive regulations.
Elaine L. Chao served as U. S. Secretary of Labor from 2001-2009 and is now a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). Readers may write to the author in care of The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: www.heritage.org. The essay was distirbuted by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.