The skepticism was evident in conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham’s voice when she referred to the working relationship between President Obama and Senate Majority Leader McConnell as a “burgeoning bromance.” Her sentiment is shared by a number of Republicans in Congress, who are unhappy that Senate and House leadership is working with the president to secure Trade Promotion Authority.
Perhaps it’s no longer axiomatic that trade divides Democrats and unites Republicans. According to Politico, “about 40 to 45 of the 245 Republicans in Congress are hard ‘nos’ on [TPA]” with many asking: Why would Republicans want to give this president, who has aggrandized his authority and disregarded congressional prerogatives, any more power? Well, they shouldn’t. However, TPA would not give the president any power to make mischief.
Trade Promotion Authority is neither a congressional capitulation nor an executive power grab. It is a compact between the branches, which effectively deputizes the president to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of Congress, which meet parameters and fulfill objectives spelled out by Congress, which are put to votes in both chambers of Congress.
If the concluded trade agreement meets Congress’s parameters and fulfills its objectives, legislation to implement the agreement is considered without amendments on an expedited timetable by an up-or-down vote. If the agreement fails to meet Congress’s parameters or fulfill its objectives, it can be taken off the so-called fast-track through a resolution of disapproval. And, ultimately, members and senators can always vote “no” if they don’t like the deal.
For members who see trade liberalization as a way to expand economic freedom and generate economic growth, rejecting trade promotion authority would be a mistake. Without TPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement simply cannot be completed. Negotiating partners would be unwilling to put their best and final offers on the table without the assurances — provided under TPA — that the agreement wouldn’t be picked apart and altered by Congress.
The TPP will include provisions that reduce trade barriers and offer some of the economic opportunities that went missing over the past six years. But it will also include some provisions that are protectionist or otherwise impede liberalization. The TPP is managed trade, not free trade. So without making the perfect the enemy of the good, each member of Congress should review the agreement and decide whether it is liberalizing on net, liberalizing enough, or whether it exceeds whatever benchmarks each deems appropriate.
Without TPA, there won’t be a TPP to assess. If TPA is passed, the TPP can conclude and Congress, the public, and Cato’s trade analysts will have ample opportunity to scrutinize its details and make informed judgments about the desirability of TPP. Concerns about granting the president more power are misplaced. The only mischief the president can make under this arrangement is mischief that earns the endorsement of majorities in both chambers.
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