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Dallying Democrats Should Outsource Trade Office

Author: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
June 23, 2009
Bloomberg.com

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President Barack Obama is desperate for budget savings, so desperate that no cut seems too small. He's even mentioned saving $632,000 by shutting a post no one knew existed, the Paris office of the U.S. Education Department.

So far, though, the president has failed to mention one budget cut that could save a good $45 million: eliminating the job of U.S. trade representative.

The idea sounds perverse. Trade can strengthen recoveries, and the current trade representative, Ron Kirk, has been known as a skilled trade hand since his days as Dallas mayor.

Kirk's staff -- 220 or so full-timers -- is among the hardest-working, brightest and most dedicated in Washington. They have negotiated bilateral agreements with a number of nations in recent years, among them Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Given that tighter trade ties will make it easier to keep the countries out of the grip of dictators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the trade representative could be crucial.

But for that person to succeed, Congress has to endorse the agreements the executive branch negotiates. And since 2006 the protectionist wing of the Democratic Party has blocked most of those agreements.

Even worse, since 2007, the White House hasn't had trade promotion authority, or so-called "fast track" power -- the ability to force Congress to vote yes or no on trade legislation without squabbles over amendments.

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