Wouldn’t it be wonderful if for one brief shining moment in Washington, Congress put good policy over politics — and passed a bill that would benefit American workers, investors and businesses?
We haven’t had a true bipartisan victory in Washington for seemingly ages, but we are tantalizingly close to getting there. This would be the passage of the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).
Both parties want this modernized version of the North American Free Trade Agreement to pass. It is the legacy of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. But this latest modernized trilateral trade deal for North America hasn’t happened yet because of an endless parade of stall tactics by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
She is blockading a vote of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. The odds are very favorable that Democrats and Republicans would provide enough yays to pass it and move it on to the Senate, where the trade deal would be approved by a wide margin. The whispering campaign on Capitol Hill is that Pelosi is worried about giving Donald Trump a “win,” so she’s inventing flimsy excuses for endlessly delaying a vote.
Her strategy might have some credibility if she had credible objections to this modernized trade deal, which Trump carefully crafted with trade negotiators from our neighbors Canada and Mexico. First, Pelosi said she wanted more worker protections in the trade deal. But this bill actually has stronger job and wage protections for American workers (some of which I think go too far) than the old NAFTA.
Trump insisted on those broader labor protections for the auto and other blue-collar workers in many of those Midwestern states that have seen middle-class job losses.
She continues to broach the idea of attaching a pension bailout bill to the trade deal. That pension bill has nothing to do with trade. It would also potentially cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to bail out mismanaged labor union pension funds. This is Pelosi’s way of throwing a wet kiss to the union bosses as payback for their support in helping her become speaker.
An even wilder idea is a scheme by Democrats to force Trump to allow the United States back into the Paris climate accord — a $100 billion tax on Americans — as the ransom for passing USMCA.
These are obvious poison pills, and the speaker knows it. Trump would never allow the U.S. into the climate treaty, and many fiscally conscientious Republicans would withdraw their support for the USMCA if they were forced to endorse these giant new taxpayer liabilities for obese pensions.
Then there’s Pelosi’s ploy to reopen the trade deal to repeal the hard-won patent protections for American pharmaceutical companies. Pelosi is acting as though this is a giant “giveaway” to the U.S. drug companies that would raise prices for American consumers.
She has it all wrong. This provision of the trade deal actually protects America patent rights for 10 years when made-in-America drugs and “biologics” are sold in foreign countries. The USMCA — expertly negotiated by Trump’s lead trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer — actually forces Mexican and Canadian citizens to honor our patents and pay more for American drugs.
This could in the end mean lower prices for these drugs here in the United States because our two neighbors would pay their fair share to cover the billions of dollars of research costs to bring to market lifesaving new drugs. Trump should be applauded for getting Mexico and Canada to agree to live by the same patent protections that we require here in America.
Why would Pelosi object to a provision that effectively curtails foreign freeloading off American firms’ medical research and development investments? Why should foreigners get special discount deals on our patented drugs that aren’t similarly available to American patients?
Pelosi’s cynical strategy to change the USMCA would bust the trade deal wide open and kill it. Trying to renegotiate a trade deal that has been years in the making is like putting toothpaste back in the tube. Opening up one section of the law makes every section negotiable and brings us back to square one.
The victims here would be American farmers, ranchers and hard-hat manufacturing workers. The economic benefits of the USMCA have been estimated by the U.S. International Trade Commission to be almost $60 billion in higher exports each year and some 175,000 new jobs. Passage of this law would put added pressure on China to pass its own trade deal with the Trump administration.
Pelosi should put America first by putting the political games aside and bringing USCMA to a vote urgently. Democrats won back the House in the 2018 elections by promising Americans that they could govern the country. Obstruction is not governing, and blocking free trade deals is no way to keep the Trump economic boom going. I hate to think that may be the point of her political tactics.