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House Democrats Reportedly Trying to Dampen Export Control Reform Efforts

To my readers outside the beltway, and those in DC that have no interest in technical wonky stuff, click here (the Congress somehow seems that way sometimes, click the link to find out). Export control reform – something that should be called trade security – is not the thing of mainstream news, but the implications for U.S. security are much more important than Rep. Anthony Weiner’s, Weinergate, or Sara Palin’s mysterious bus tour.

Picking up where the Bush Administration left off, the Obama Administration has done a good job of moving forward a discussion on reforming U.S. export control laws. That is about as far as I will go on an endorsement, they can and should do more (and adding a new federal agency is not one of them).

Not sure why but key Members of Congress, up until two weeks ago, had not really weighed in. In the past two weeks, however, there has been some action including a Congressional hearing as well as the introduction of two key bills on export controls: one Republican, one Democrat.

H.R. 2122 was introduced by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and H.R. 2004 by the Ranking Member of the same Committee, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Two bills? Really? It did not need to be this way, but I have it from several sources – Democrat and Republican – that the Democratic leadership has been asking Democrats not to sign on to the Republican measure.  That’s too bad.

Former President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress were able to work on welfare reform and fundamentally changed how the country deals with federal hand outs in that arena. On a much smaller scale, the Obama Administration can do the same on this trade security issue.

While the current trade security system is not broken or outdated (a favorite argument of export control opponents), it could use a much-needed tune-up. Much of it can and should be done under the hood, i.e., making certain that the agencies have the tools they need, with clear ground rules and boundaries, to enforce a robust, more nimble, and fulsome U.S. trade security regime.

If House Democrats want to sign on to a Republican measure, then the Obama Administration, if it wants to move product, should sidestep House Democratic leaders and help push through a measure in the House and the Senate. I have talked with numerous Obama Administration officials that want to make it so. Let’s see if there is the political will to leave something of value on the table.



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