If only trade talks went this quick…

March 10, 2009

KirkCall it the Congressional version of the lightning round.

Ron Kirk, the Obama administration’s choice for U.S. Trade Representative, had a rapid-fire confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that lasted no longer than 45 minutes.

“Exhilarating,” was how Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, described the quick experience, fittingly, in one word.

Senators had to compress the session to attend a vote on amendments to the omnibus spending bill.

Kirk started off by telling senators “It’s been a long and strange journey getting to this point,” but didn’t even make it through a shortened version of prepared remarks before he was urged by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to wrap it up.

“I’m going to ask about four questions, and if you don’t mind, I’d like about 45-second answers,” Baucus told Kirk. He proceeded to ask how Kirk would promote bipartisanship on trade issues, enforce the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber deal, eliminate sanitary and phytosanitary barrier for farm goods, and whether a bilateral trade agreement with Panama was closer to passage than pending deals with Colombia and South Korea.

Baucus alloted Kirk “23 seconds” to explain how he would build support for trade among America’s middle class, which views deals as bad for the country, and later, “15 seconds” to talk about how he would enforce deals.

The Doha round of World Trade Organization talks, now dragging into its eighth year? No questions.

Baucus, along with Republican senators Chuck Grassley and John Cornyn, mentioned errors in Kirk’s tax return, but none of the senators used their precious seconds of time to question Kirk about his omissions.

Cornyn, who defeated Kirk in a 2002 race for the Senate, praised  Kirk’s record in Dallas and called him “the right man” to be U.S. trade representative despite the tax issue.

–By Roberta Rampton and Doug Palmer

Photo: Reuters/Hyungwon Kang (Kirk testifies at his confirmation hearing)

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