OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns said he's baffled at why President Barack Obama hasn't asked Congress for trade promotion authority.
It allows presidents to negotiate "fast track" trade agreements with a "yes" or "no" vote from Congress, without letting Congress amend the deal.
Johanns, a Republican who served as President George W. Bush's agriculture secretary, supports giving the authority to the president regardless of the party.
He said if Obama asked, he'd help him get the authority, which was designed to speed the reduction of trade barriers and open new markets with other countries.
"Sign me up," Johanns said in an Omaha interview with The Associated Press. "I'll lead the effort."
Johanns said trade problems are piling up for Obama, including an unapproved trade agreement that would eliminate tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. exports to Colombia.
Currently, there's an imbalance, Johanns said. Almost all products from Colombia enter the United States duty-free. But some U.S. exports to Colombia face tariffs as high as 40 percent.
Colombia is on the right track in combatting the drug trade, yet the agreement remains unapproved, Johanns said. The agreement would help Nebraska, which exported more than $4 billion in agriculture products in 2008, Johanns said.
Meanwhile, Johanns said, Obama is seen shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at an international meeting. And Obama has called for engaging Iran diplomatically in order to defuse an international standoff over Tehran's suspected nuclear program.
It sends the wrong message to nations that are trying to work with the United States, Johanns said.
"The president is reaching out to some really bad actors without precondition," he said.
Johanns was elected to his first term in November. He replaced Republican Chuck Hagel, who didn't seek re-election.