After the House of Representatives today narrowly passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – so-called “fast track” authority – by a vote of 218-208. Competitive Enterprise Institute adjunct fellow Frances B. Smith made the following comments:
The House today voted in favor of America’s economic future in finally passing Trade Promotion Authority. With 95 percent of the world’s market outside the U.S., this vote helps the U.S. position itself to capitalize on the opportunities that market provides.
If Trade Promotion Authority is next passed by the Senate and signed by the President, U.S. trading partners will be able to negotiate in good faith, which is critical for the U.S. to be an important player in the world economy.
Opponents of fast-track have been flying under the protectionist banner. Protectionism may seem comfortable but it destroys the future of the competitive economy of the U.S. and isolates us from the opportunities that free trade provides.
Politically, the votes last week and today show a big schism between President Obama’s push for new trade agreements and Democrats’ strong opposition, with even Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaking out against the measures before the June 12 vote was concluded.
Background: Under TPA, so-called “fast-track” legislation, the President has the authority to negotiate trade agreements if certain criteria established by Congress are met. Then Congress reviews the agreement and the implementing legislation and has to vote on the bill with no amendments allowed.
Today's final House vote showed Republicans voting 190-50 and Democrats largely rejecting the bill by a vote of 28-158. The legislation was again brought to a vote this week after the Democrats on June 12 killed the linked bill on providing worker assistance.
The bill voted on today only dealt with Trade Promotion Authority, with plans to deal with the related worker assistance program later. TPA sets up a process by which Congress gives trade negotiating authority to the president only if certain congressionally mandated criteria and timetables are met. In exchange, legislation implementing a trade amendment is then voted up or down, without amendments.
The major opposition has been from unions, who are vehemently campaigning against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), even though negotiations on that pact haven’t been completed. With TPA in place, those and other special interests won’t be able to tinker with specifics of the agreement after a long process of congressional review. The unions’ charge that TTP will drive down workers’ wages and result in lost jobs is a spurious one. Of the 11 other countries negotiating TPP, many, such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Singapore, already have trade agreements with the U.S., and the others represent developed economies, like Japan and New Zealand, or small countries and markets.
With his own party’s opposition to his trade agenda – including Democratic leadership President Obama was forced to turn to the Republicans today for the lion’s share of support.