The concern during the 2010 election that a large, more-conservative Republican freshman class in the House of Representatives would embrace protectionism appears to be unfounded. 67 of 87 Republican freshmen sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week urging the White House to push for ratification of three outstanding trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Thankfully, it appears that the vast majority of the Congressional freshmen recognize the job-creating potential that international trade offers.
Free trade has traditionally had bipartisan support, but has had more backing amongst Republicans than Democrats in recent years. Labor conditions and environmental concerns have weakened support in some Democrat camps, which stalled the ratification of the three agreements signed under President George Bush. The influence of the Tea Party and rising fears that liberalizing global trade could cause the U.S. to shed even more jobs during the economic downturn led some to speculate that the 112th Congress would be more protectionist than past Congresses. The letter to the President, however, strongly suggests that such concerns are unfounded, and that the newly-elected Republicans recognize the importance of international trade to creating jobs at home.
The letter to President Obama states that the freshmen “strongly believe that expanding trade will increase economic growth and create jobs here in the U.S.” The letter continues, “We believe the first step in that process is to move forward on our agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea without delay. Our economy and our job market cannot afford anything less than swift and decisive action.” The vast majority of the freshmen class, including many members of Congress who are considered in line with the Tea Party, have rejected protectionism.
Soon after the letter was signed, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) commented, "The letter from the freshmen Members shows their commitment to a pro-growth agenda. Republicans are ready to work with the President on a comprehensive trade agenda to create real and sustained private sector job creation.”
The fate of the three agreements remains unclear and challenges to ratification of the agreements remain. President Obama’s support for at least one of the free trade agreements, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and Republicans' continuing support for free trade, however, suggest that our country’s trade agenda may not be in as much peril as previously feared.
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