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What Exactly Are We Trading in the TPA/TPP?

Can Obama be trusted with Trade Promotion Authority?

> Update: The House passed the Trade Promotion Authority Friday, but rejected Trade Adjustment Assistance, a Democrat priority that had passed by the Senate. That makes approval of only the TPA there doubtful. Overall, it hands Obama a rebuke for his untrustworthiness. Interestingly it was Democrats who primarily rallied to defeat him even after his personal appeal.

It’s a deal that’s been in the works since before Barack Obama took office, but as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact, is being hammered into shape, some members of Congress — especially Democrats — are reluctant to give Obama the same “fast-track” authority other presidents have had over the last few decades. Specifically, that would happen through the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the full text of which is here. Some conservatives also have a problem with awarding any authority to this particular chief executive, given his track record of abusing his power on immigration and regulation.

There’s an argument to be had, however, from conservatives who remind us that free trade is the bailiwick of the Republican Party. George Will leads the charge:

> “It is … unnecessary to defeat fast-track authority (thereby defeating freer trade) in order to restrain this rogue president. The 22nd Amendment guarantees his departure in 19 months. His lawlessness has prompted congressional resistance on multiplying fronts. The judiciary, too, has repeatedly rebuked him for illegal executive overreaches. So, it is neither necessary nor statesmanlike to injure the nation’s future in order to protest Obama’s past.”

There’s also the libertarian free-trade perspective of the Cato Institute:

> “Historically, trade agreements have expanded Americans’ economic liberties, even though that outcome has never been the principal objective. It happens residually. Trade negotiators prioritize the export-oriented goals of their business interests and, in the process of reaching those objectives, make Americans more economically free.”

In both instances, we’re reminded that the process doesn’t end with congressional passage of the TPA, which, in short, grants Obama negotiating power and provides for Congress to then hold an up-or-down vote on whatever agreement Obama makes — without being able to amend it. While nothing is certain in Congress, the House is slated to vote on the TPA legislation today, following the Senate’s passage of the measure last month.

However, the “sausage-making,” as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest termed it, has a number of other fillers that could be added to the mix. A previous version of the legislation cuts Medicare to pay for the Trade Adjustment Assistance that Democrats wanted in the bill. However, that particular cut was deleted in favor of measures intended to increase revenue through stricter enforcement of fraudulent claims and enhanced penalties against businesses failing to submit correct 1099 data. It’s also been speculated that the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank — a favorite target of conservatives — may be included with TPA legislation to draw a few additional Democrat votes.

Opponents also have some tricks up their sleeves. While the usual protectionist suspects of Big Labor (and some of the 2016 Democrat presidential hopefuls) continually grouse about being “isolated,” “marginalized,” and otherwise abandoned by their administration allies, immigration hawks are also crying foul about “secret immigration powers” they claim are in the TPP, based on leaked information from Wikileaks. This goes back to the lack of trust many have with this president, length of time left in office notwithstanding.

The obvious question, then, is whether the votes are there. Trade negotiators for the U.S. argue that the other TPP parties won’t put their final offers on the table until Obama is allowed to have TPA, but some conservatives worry about what dangers to our sovereignty lurk in the proposal, which hasn’t been made public except for those provisions that have leaked. While it’s not a complete secret, access to draft copies of the TPP is controlled by the same laws that were placed in effect for NAFTA in the 1990s. Obama must publish the deal 60 days before entering into it, and Congress has final approval.

Opponents are convinced that the TPA is the last best chance to kill the TPP, or at least push it off until the next (hopefully conservative) administration has a chance to negotiate a more favorable pact. But the TPA and the TPP are not the same thing, and support for the former doesn’t necessarily mean support for the latter.

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