Democrats aren’t up to the challenge on deficit reduction

And let me just add that paying lip service to the threat caused by the deficit is not a substitute for responsible leadership and that job-destroying tax hikes on small businesses and American families are not the answer to out-of-control Washington spending. At a time when increasing gas prices are already threatening our economic recovery, a minivan tax that some on the other side have proposed won’t solve our nation’s fiscal crisis.

But I’ll tell you what it will do: it will destroy jobs and impose a real on burden families every time they fill up at the pump — at a time when people are looking for relief instead.

Democrats’ steadfast refusal to cut another dime from the bloated Washington budget has left them no choice, it seems, but to propose raising taxes on American families and small businesses so that they can continue spending at unsustainable levels. Republicans, on the other hand, have made a serious proposal to rein in wasteful spending.

So to me, at least, the choice before us is pretty clear. But as we approach today’s vote, it’s worth noting that even if we were to pass the biggest spending cuts that have been proposed so far in this debate, it wouldn’t even put a dent in the fiscal problems we face as a result of the growth in entitlement spending.

Think about it:  Democrats have been waging war this week over a proposal to cut $4.7 billion. Meanwhile, the amount of money we’ve promised to spend on programs like Social Security and Medicare — money we don’t have — is about $52 trillion.

So this week’s debate is just a dress rehearsal for the big stuff — and so far Democrats are showing they’re just not up to it. They either lack the stomach or the courage, and the president, as members of his own party point out, is nowhere to be found on the issue.

I’ve talked about this leadership vacuum repeatedly this week on the entitlements — and how their unchecked growth threatens to bury all of us in red ink before we know it. We can argue about whether to cut $5 billion or $60 billion in day-to-day expenses all we want — but the fact is, even if we hit the bigger number we’re still staring at a catastrophe.

And the president appears to be totally uninterested in leading us to a bipartisan solution — the way Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did the last times we faced a crisis of this magnitude.  But when it comes to another crisis — the jobs crisis — the president isn’t just failing to lead, he’s flat-out barring the door with a mountain of stifling new regulations and calculated inaction on outstanding free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

This morning, the U.S. Trade Representative is set to testify before the Finance Committee to voice the administration’s support of a trade agreement with South Korea.

And while we support the administration’s position on South Korea, the lack of leadership on these two other countries which signed Free Trade Agreements with us more than three years ago is disheartening.

The reason for inaction is stunning: union bosses don’t want to see them passed. For some reason they seem to think that expanding the market for U.S. goods into Colombia and Panama somehow hurts them — which is absurd.

The Administration has previously expressed tepid support for these deals, an acknowledgement that expanding markets for U.S. goods can only help U.S. workers, and that the picture in Colombia is better than the labor bosses would have us believe. 

But they’ve failed to follow through.

The irony of union opposition to these trade deals is that an expanded U.S. presence in a Latin American country can only help the workers there, by exporting U.S. business standards and practices. And of course more exports for U.S. firms mean more jobs for U.S. workers.

In the last few weeks, company after company has come before Congress to testify how important accessing Latin American markets is for their future, and to create jobs here. According to the Chamber of Commerce, failing to pass these trade agreements along with the trade agreement with South Korea could cost us 380,000 U.S. jobs.

While we’ve dithered on these agreements, Colombia has moved on. Having been stiff-armed by the United States, it’s finding other trade partners. Naturally, Colombia has turned to other countries and, worse still, is warming relations with Hugo Chavez in neighboring Venezuela. 

Last week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was quoted referring to Chavez as his "new best friend" — a man who just last year accused Santos of plotting to assassinate him.

 At a time when nearly 14 million Americans are looking for work, the president should be listening to those of us who come to him with ways to create jobs. And this is one of them.

The Administration has no excuse for failing to act on these trade agreements. It’s in the clear interest of the country to approve them. It would create jobs here at home at a time when we desperately need them.

I am confident Congress could pass these on a bipartisan basis today. I urge the administration to act today, and not just on South Korea but on Colombia and Panama. I, for one, am prepared to do everything in my power to pass these agreements together this year.