Thus spoke Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York in a meeting three weeks ago as Capitol Hill's end-of-session scramble was starting, essentially indicating that it was well-nigh impossible to predict which legislative proposals would be going through. And this was before the financial crisis really hit.
Well, now that the dust has settled and Congress has gotten out of Dodge, which NEMA trade priorities were actually approved? As it happens, the financial crisis actually helped us, keeping our elected officials in session for a few important extra days so that:
- As expected, the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Act did get approved by the House and Senate. NEMA was a principal supporter of the measure, which improves overall U.S. anti-counterfeiting enforcement, including coordination between government agencies.
- In a pleasant surprise, the U.S.-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement was also approved, with skeptics in both chambers eventually letting the ratification votes go ahead. The Agreement marks a very positive milestone in U.S.-Indian relations and will permit NEMA members to compete in supplying transmission, distribution, and control technologies for civilian nuclear projects on the Subcontinent. Just a few weeks ago the Agreement didn't seem to have a chance, but a series of Indian, international and now U.S. ratifications came through in rapid succession.
- But the three U.S. free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea respectively never had a chance. Bizarrely, at least in the cases of the first two (the South Korea FTA and its automobile provisions in particular are another matter), the congressional Democratic majority doesn't really contest the merits of the FTAs, but basically still opposes them out of spite for the current Administration and, in the case of Colombia, due to heavy U.S. labor opposition.
Indeed, to describe the past few days on the Hill you might need to use the words "bazaar" and "bizarre" interchangeably, which actually would not be a first. Paul Theroux, for example, in his memorable "The Great Railway Bazaar" describes the many bizarre things he encounters during a humongous circa-Eurasia railroad journey. Conveniently for our times, his new book, "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star", in which he retraces much of his bazaar/bizarre, early-70s route, has just come out and is well worth the read.