Here is why President Obama’s plan to reorganize and streamline government doesn’t stand much of a chance in Congress: rice bowls. In this case: USTR.
Just about every state in the Union has a deep vested interest in international trade and in the outcome of trade disputes.
That’s why, as a legislator, it is about as plum as it gets if you sit on one of the committees that calls the shots at the obscure little agency across the street from the White House called the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). That little office sets and promotes U.S. international trade policy.
And businesses across the country salivate at the thought of having influence over USTR.
Another state with a sizable interest in international trade issues is Michigan. And guess what industry Michigan companies and people care about? Right you are: autos and auto parts, which happen to be high on our trade agendas with countries like China and South Korea and Japan.
And who happens to chair the House and Senate committees that oversee USTR? A Republican from Michigan (Rep. Dave Camp), chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, and a Democrat from Montana (Sen. Max Baucus), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. As heads of those committees, they have inordinate leverage over U.S. trade policies that directly affect their states and constituencies.
(Coincidentally, when Asia-Pacific trade ministers met last year for a summit, guess where they chose to meet? Asia? No. Somewhere near the Pacific? No. Big Sky, Montana, silly.)
So if Baucus and Camp seem reluctant to see Obama follow through on his proposal to transfer USTR to the Commerce Department (which is overseen by different committees and not theirs), this might have something to do with it.