Nancy Pelosi (copy)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Congressional Democrats are letting the chance to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) slip from their grasp. If they bypass this unique opportunity to score a bipartisan victory on behalf of the American people, they’ll prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re not the “moderates” they claimed to be on the campaign trail.

The USMCA is designed to rebalance our lopsided trading relationships with Mexico and Canada by modernizing the outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) so that American workers and business can once again compete on a level playing field — and it promises enormous benefits to Wisconsin’s economy.

The updated trade deal beefs up labor protections to combat outsourcing, which became a major problem after NAFTA made it possible for companies to move jobs to Mexico in order to take advantage of lower labor costs. It also creates new standards for digital trade, a category NAFTA negotiators could not have anticipated, instituting robust protections for American intellectual property.

Most importantly for America’s Dairyland, the USMCA opens new markets for farmers, especially dairy farmers.

Under the new trade rules, Canada has agreed to eliminate its unfair import restrictions on dairy products, which have long been a source of frustration to American farmers. As U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman has pointed out, the USMCA is expected to triple the amount of milk Wisconsin dairy farmers export to Canada.

Wisconsin farmers exported $451 million of dairy products in 2018, so the USMCA would generate serious money for our economy. New export markets boost prices and reduce market volatility, allowing farmers to earn greater profits while minimizing the risk from market fluctuations.

Unfortunately, this blockbuster deal could become a victim of politics. With a dwindling number of legislative days left in 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has shown little enthusiasm for bringing the agreement to a floor vote, even though the USMCA is overwhelmingly popular with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. If members were given a chance to vote, the agreement would pass. Instead of letting Pelosi use them as pawns, rank-and-file House Democrats, especially those who bill themselves as moderates, should band together and demand that she let them vote on the USMCA.

The delay is starting to look like a deliberate effort on the part of Democratic leadership to stop President Trump from scoring a significant victory. Republicans are worried that the prospect of approving the USMCA will fall dramatically if it isn’t passed before the end of the calendar year, since Democrats will be even more reluctant to let the president take credit for such a momentous accomplishment during an election year.

Before taking back the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi promised voters that Democrats would work with the president on matters of mutual interest. The USMCA clearly meets that criterion, yet Pelosi has allowed it to languish while she pursues a blatantly partisan “impeachment inquiry” against President Trump.

Even her stated reasons for the USMCA delay — she says she wants to add more environmental protections to the agreement — are inherently polarizing, reflecting the priorities of far-left coastal Democrats but not those of pragmatic Midwestern moderates.

Alas, partisanship and obstruction have been Pelosi’s MO ever since she became speaker. Under her leadership, Democrats have done nothing but harass the Trump administration and propose increasingly radical policies designed to troll Republicans rather than cultivate compromise. Instead of reaching across the aisle to deliver results that would directly benefit their constituents — such as funding infrastructure improvements, reducing prescription drug prices, and, yes, passing the USMCA — Pelosi’s Democrats have aligned themselves with the unyielding anti-Trump “resistance” movement.

Time is running out for the Democrats to pass the USMCA and demonstrate that they’re capable of delivering actual benefits to the American people. If they don’t, they’d better not try to pass themselves off as “moderates” in 2020, because we’ll know better than to fall for that fiction again.

Robert W. Kasten is a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.

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