If you still doubt that President Obama doesn’t know nearly enough about trade’s impact on the U.S. economy to merit a fast track blank check from Congress, ask yourself why he decided to promote the virtues of new agreements at a roundtable yesterday in Fairfax County, Virginia.
It’s clear why some combination of the host Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and White House aides pitched the appearance. They viewed it as a chance to spotlight all the high-tech, knowledge-industry companies throughout the affluent county that they’re sure will benefit from the trade expansion spurred by deals like the president’s prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But the administration is ignoring a screamingly obvious reality: Fairfax and Washington, D.C.-area municipalities like it are good bets to prosper long-term whether new trade deals are signed or not – less because they’re so intrinsically dynamic, but because they’re so heavily dependent on federal government spending and jobs for their well-being. Indeed, Fairfax openly admits the link.
According to Fairfax’ own statistics, just under 21 percent of its workers are employed by government at all levels – federal, state, and county. The comparable share for the nation as a whole is 16.16 percent. But these Fairfax numbers tell only part of the story. For they omit all the county residents employed at its innumerable so-called private sector companies that survive (and thrive) almost solely on federal contracts – and all the business and tax revenues they in turn generate for Fairfax’ other companies and budget.
Federal spending was especially helpful to Fairfax during the recession. According to the National Association of Counties, it never experienced one. But Fairfax’ reliance on Washington’s tax dollars was also evident from its concern about the federal spending slowdown agreed to by the White House and Congress. George Mason University economists estimated that in 2013 the sequestration cost Fairfax more than eight percent of its economic output and more than 13 percent of its jobs – losses far greater than those suffered nation-wide.
Many conservatives will surely interpret the White House’s agreement at the least to spotlight Fairfax as a sign of the president’s alleged determination to addict the entire U.S. economy to federal spending. As I see it, yesterday’s Fairfax session points to an even more disturbing conclusion: that after more than five years living in the capitol’s political and media bubble, Mr. Obama now assumes that the Beltway norm is now the national norm.