On Friday, President Obama announced he will seek approval from Congress for authority to merge six trade-related agencies and create a new cabinet-level agency.
Obama is proposing to merge six trade and commerce agencies - the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
But Obama's proposal has raised some questions with Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Smith said opening up foreign markets for Nebraska agriculture is a top priority as a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.
"While we should always look for opportunities to streamline government and eliminate duplicate programs, I have serious concerns about surrounding the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in a massive new bureaucracy," Smith said.
When looking over the White House proposal, Smith said he will be looking for methods of actual savings. He said without reduction of payrolls, "it is hard to imagine much savings will occur."
Obama said under his proposal, the government will save approximately $3 billion over a 10-year period.
Smith also said he feels enlarging regulatory agencies such as the EPA and OSHA while hampering pro-business efforts is also a cause for concern.
On the one hand, Smith said, Obama is increasing the scope and reach of regulatory agencies which exact a cost on businesses at the expense of jobs. On the one hand, Smith said, Obama is increasing the scope and reach of regulatory agencies which exact a cost on businesses at the expense of jobs. On the other hand, according to Congressional leaders, the proposal, which has the look of being pro-business and pro-smaller government, will actually have the "likely side effect of hampering trade negotiations, therefore stymieing/delaying job creation in that respect."
The Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees are the two groups of lawmakers which have jurisdiction over trade policy and work the closest with the White House to advance the U.S. trade agenda.
Smith said the USTR is widely seen as a model of how government should operate. He said it is "nimble, efficient, and routinely delivers on its mission to advance American manufacturing and agricultural exports."
Recently, the USTR was instrumental in negotiating the free trade agreements passed last year with Panama, Colombia and South Korea which will create as many as 250,000 jobs.
Smith said trade must be a top priority for robust long-term economic growth - to create good jobs in Nebraska and increase the competitiveness of our ag exporters.
But absorbing the USTR into a massive new bureaucracy, Smith said will only undermine this objective and slow down work on ongoing trade negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the implementation of the three FTAs passed last year.
Smith said that will make it more difficult to advance trade objectives will undermine job creation at a time when we need it the most.
Smith points to business groups have expressed concerns as well. For example, he said the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) President Bill Reinsch said the plans to consolidate USTR "could interfere with efforts to engage key stakeholders, including the U.S. business community, and to maximize trade, economic growth and job creation."
"Certainly we need to look for ways to reduce government and make agencies more accessible to businesses, but this proposal appears to do more harm than good for our negotiators," Smith said. "As we reconvene for the next session of Congress, I will give the President's plan my fullest attention."