Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee marked up the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) by a vote of 25 – 3. This is after the House of Representatives passed the agreement at the end of 2019, by a vote of 385 – 41. The full U.S. Senate is expected to take up the bill and pass it with another overwhelming majority. Step back and look at the big picture for a moment. Really look at what this shows us. This country still has the potential to work together.
Audio: Profit Matters 1-8-20
Like many pieces of legislation, USMCA came with a lot of political wrangling and arguments. Look at it just on the surface but through red and blue-tinted glasses.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, you will see many charges of the deal not being good enough on labor, enforcement, or on the environment. Now, those concerns were at many levels that I, for the sake of brevity, will not list out. Again, this is a wide-angle view.
Now on the other side of the coin, Republicans were charging that Democrats were dragging their feet and doing anything they could to deny President Trump any kind of a political win. The deal was signed in November of 2018, and it took until December of 2019 to finally get it moving through the House of Representatives. The details of these complaints can go on and on.
Now, step back from the microscope of your respective parties for a minute. Don’t look at USMCA’s movement in Congress through the eyes of your chosen elected representatives or your favorite mouthpieces. Just for a moment.
This is a piece of legislation over the approval of a trade agreement that will affect the entire U.S. economy, not just agriculture. We aren’t the only ones with a stake in this. Remember this renegotiation started over tariffs on steel and aluminum. I am not here to argue the validity of using these tariffs, I am saying there are many sectors in play.
Once agreed upon, the trade deal was signed by the leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. When the deal was presented to the Congress, some people looked at it and said they had concerns. Whether you think those concerns had any merit, is not what I am looking at here. I am looking at the fact that concerns were raised and talked through.
House Democrats took their arguments to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer. He went back to his counterparts in Canada and Mexico and talked with them. Yes, I am oversimplifying this. I am not trying to write a novel. The USTR works through negotiating changes to a trade pact which has already been agreed to and passed by one of the member countries. He does this, and he gets them to agree to some of the changes.
Remember, this is a member of a Republican administration working to find a middle ground with House Democratic leaders. He is doing this at a time where we are seeing a political divide in this nation that hasn’t been seen in generations. In the end, he got the agreement modified to where House Democrats, the majority in the lower chamber, could agree to it. USTR Lighthizer received praise for both sides of the aisle for how he handled these negotiations. He got the job done.
Both sides of the aisle are doing all they can to grab credit for USMCA as it moves to the Senate floor. Republicans are still saying that they are going to get it done despite the political foot-dragging of House Democrats. Democrats are saying if not for them, an imperfect agreement would have been railroaded through. In an election year, these claims are going to be amplified even further.
The takeaway from this. A republican administration official worked with Congressional Democrats on their concerns and found a way to address them. Both sides of the aisle worked on something, and they did it together.
There are a lot of loud voices out there fueling our passions. Yes, everybody would have preferred to see this bill get done sooner. Agriculture’s main concern was that the approval wouldn’t happen in an election year, and we would be hung out to dry at a time when we need all the trade and market support we can find. Impatience happens. It is natural. For some reason, as I read the statements from both sides of the Senate Ag Committee aisle, I see what we can truly accomplish in the big picture. We see the leadership on both sides praising what this agreement was able to do for farmers. We are seeing strong support from both parties, and this is reflected in the vote tallies.
You can continue to be skeptical if you wish. I probably will go back to my skepticism in the coming days in weeks for one reason or another. Both sides of the aisle saw an important piece of legislation. In the end, they knew the voters would hold them accountable for what went through. Political ideologies aside, that is the way it should be. Politicians should look at every piece of legislation with an eye to the future and an ear to the people.
I recall an interview I heard back during my days in Minnesota. There were two former state-level politicians talking. One was a representative from one party, and one was a senator from the other. I can no longer remember who they were and from which party. That wasn’t the important part of the message. They talked on this radio show segment for some time. In the end, is where I found the nugget of hope that I still carry in the American political system. One of the former politicians said:
“When we went into those chambers, we were ready to argue tooth and nail for our party and its platform. Outside of those chambers, we could talk about our families and our lives as old friends. We used to battle over the hard issues until midnight or later as deadlines approached. Each side was fighting and negotiating over important matters. In the end, if we walked out of those chambers content with the things we got into the agreement and furious over the ones we hadn’t, we knew we had probably done what was best for the interest of our state.”
This can be accomplished on the national scale as well. Look no further than the final vote tallies on USMCA. It is possible. As citizens, we need to remember what we are capable of together, rather than getting the win for our side. We are all different, yet we have common needs. It is the differences that make this country what it is. We need to find a way to make those differences work as our strength, rather than as our undoing.