Congress Returns to Washington

Busy agenda awaits attention following August recess.

Published on: Sep 6, 2011

As Congress returns to Washington following the August recess, there are plenty of issues that need attention including the pending free trade agreements.

Former Ag Secretary John Block says the long-stalled free trade agreements will get done in spite of all the finger-pointing between the President and Congressional Republicans. He predicts the need for jobs in the country will propel the Colombia, Panama and South Korea deals to final approval.

"This could have been done quite a long time ago," Block said. "The President pretended like it was Congress that was holding it back, which is absurd because he never sent the bill up to the Congress so they could vote on it."

Block says President Obama has the labor unions on his back and is demanding Congress pass help for trade-displaced workers and Block concedes that problem that's kept Obama from sending up the trade deals hasn't gone away.

"Republicans want to vote it straight through and the Democrats want to attach to it Trade Adjustment Assistance ," Block said. "Trade Adjustment Assistance in my judgment, maybe they'll have a compromise on that in the end, but that is a luxury we probably can't afford today."

TAA cost close to $1 billion when it expired earlier this year. A Capitol Hill-White House compromise reduces that, but Block says differences remain over how to ensure TAA gets a vote in the GOP controlled House.

"I don't think they've solved all the arguments and the fights between the Democrats and the Republicans, but I think it is going to heat up enough to probably get it done," Block said. "It is a shame it's gone on this long and we've lost market share in Colombia. We've faced all kinds of problems in dealing with Korea, our good friend over there right up against North Korea, and here we couldn't get a trade agreement done with them. This is embarrassing in my judgment."

Block calls the Europeans and Canadians very reliable suppliers of product also, and argues now that they've got more favorable tariff treatment in these markets through their own trade deals it will be hard for the U.S. to reclaim lost market share.