I hadn’t been paying close attention to the White House push for the Trans Pacific Partnership, mainly because it didn’t really seem possible. After all, the only way for the trade treaty to be negotiated is for Congress to willingly give up its authority to the President. And, after the way Obama treated Congress during the government “shutdown,” how he derided them for opposing Obamacare as a narrowly ideological or partisan, and how the Senate Democratic majority has “gone nuclear,” why would Congressional Republicans consent to that? For that matter, why would they do it under any circumstances?
Because trade deals only work if all parties can make promises and be trusted to keep them, it is very difficult for the President to make such negotiations when he can only promise to propose such agreements to Congress, which can amend them. In the past, Congress gave the President “Trade Promotion Authority” (TPM) so that such agreements cannot be amended by Congress. But that authority expired in 2007. The President wants Congress to renew it.
The good news, as Mike Masnick points out at TechDirt, is that Congress is probably not going to make themselves so useless or the White House so supremely powerful. But he got me worried by linking this Reuters story that makes no sense to me at all.
The Obama administration wants to reach an agreement in those talks by year-end, but a lack of fast-track authority could make that goal hard to reach. Negotiators converged in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday for another round of talks.
Last week, Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who leads a House trade subcommittee, said lawmakers were close to introducing a bill to renew TPA but that they needed Obama to win over his fellow Democrats.
As a sweetener for Democrats, the administration wants Congress to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance, a government program to retrain workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition or factories’ moving overseas. That bill is unpopular with many free market-minded Republicans though.
So Republicans want to give President Obama the authority but the Democrats are stopping them? That makes no sense to me at all. I can only guess that Republicans think that granting superpowers to Obama is OK because the Trans Pacific Partnership is a “free trade” agreement. But, even if that were true, I still don’t think it is wise to grant the executive branch such power. And it isn’t true. The Trans Pacific Partnership may well be the opposite of a free trade agreement when one looks at what is actually in the agreement rather than the labels that put on it by lobbyists.