Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank may not be getting the nod to run the department on a permanent basis, but it looks like it’ll be a while before new boss John Bryson takes the helm. That’s because even though Bryson’s record is completely uncontroversial, there are 44 Republican Senators who have pledged to block the confirmation of any Commerce Secretary “until Obama submits for ratification trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.”
The Obama administration favors those agreements, but has pledged not to ratify them until Congress reauthorized the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, a flawed but valuable initiative designed to mitigate the problems trade deals can cause for incumbent workers. Opponents of TAA, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have taken to arguing that it can’t be reauthorized “at a time when this country is basically broke.” But not only is the country not broke, the essence of the case for free trade is that it’s positive sum. Any given deal has an adverse impact on some people, but the gains should be large enough to make it possible to compensate them.