Trade Promotion Authority Deserves Americans’ Support

May 29th, 2015 by 16 Comments

By Brandon Arnold and Benita M. Dodd

The congressional debate over trade has been white-hot in recent weeks. With the support of both Georgia senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, the U.S. Senate just approved Trade Promotion Authority, which would help the United States enter into more trade agreements with foreign nations, benefiting people right here in Georgia.

As the debate shifts to the U.S. House of Representatives, a bizarre political coupling has emerged against Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): the union bosses and many of their traditional anti-trade friends on the left seem to have forged an alliance with some members of the Tea Party, which is traditionally aligned with the right.

In one corner of this odd alliance the unions continue to make their same, tired arguments that global trade is bad for the U.S. economy, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. In Georgia alone, trade supports approximately 1.2 million jobs; the state exported $58.4 billion in goods and services in 2013.

In the other corner, most Tea Party critics sensibly dismiss the flimsy union arguments and acknowledge trade’s economic benefits. Still, many express concerns that President Obama would be empowered with too much authority under this law and could somehow hijack the trade negotiating process to implement his own progressive agenda. These misgivings overlook the numerous safeguards to preserve an appropriate balance of power between the President and Congress.

Like no other version of TPA in its more than 40-year history under both Democrat and Republican presidents, the current Senate legislation established mechanisms that allow Congress to review the text of a trade agreement during negotiations and even to participate in the negotiating process. It also contains a brand new “off switch” that would allow the Senate Finance Committee or House Ways & Means Committee to take a pending agreement off the “fast track” so it would no longer enjoy expedited consideration in Congress.

Meanwhile, despite concerns that the president could modify immigration laws via trade pacts, Trade Promotion Authority clearly prohibits altering U.S. laws via a trade agreement. Critics have cited provisions related to the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 2012. Here, the extension of L-1 visas was separate from the trade pact. It merely changed their period of eligibility from three to five years, still less than the full seven years permitted under law at the time. This minor and completely legal change, outside a trade agreement, in no way signified or opened a door to wholesale revisions of immigration law. Meanwhile in 2014, just two years after this trade deal, Georgia experienced a 54 percent increase in exports to South Korea.

Far from handing over undue and undeserved power to President Obama, TPA’s safeguards would confine him and his trade deputies – by congressional mandate – to pursuing 150 well-defined trade objectives when negotiating a trade agreement. TPA gives Congress the authority to shut down – quickly – any effort to implement an administration agenda through a trade pact. If somehow Congress allowed a harmful provision to find its way into a completed agreement, TPA contains a clause that invalidates any provision in any trade agreement that stands in conflict with U.S. law.

Expanding trade is good for the country and especially good for Georgians. Free trade policies have allowed Georgia businesses to export billions of dollars every year in pulp and paper, motor vehicles, aerospace products, agricultural goods and much more. At the same time, imports have dramatically reduced the cost of consumer goods and inputs, which has been tremendously beneficial to Georgia’s families and businesses alike.

Since 1974, Trade Promotion Authority has been an essential tool for negotiating trade pacts and opening up additional foreign markets to American goods and services. No amount of misinformation or misunderstanding should change that.

Brandon Arnold is Executive Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union, the nation’s oldest taxpayer advocacy group. Benita Dodd is Vice President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

16 thoughts on “Trade Promotion Authority Deserves Americans’ Support

  1. Astounding that you want to hand off more power from congress to Barack Obama!
    Granting Obama fast-track authority reinforces bad behavior
    By Neil Siefring
    The Hill. June 2, 2015Granting President Obama trade promotion authority (TPA) as the Senate has, and the House may, is a poor idea. It reinforces bad behavior — the president’s continued unchecked circumvention of the Constitution — and perpetuates the erosion of Congress’ autonomy and self-respect by facilitating the president’s issues with constitutional authority.

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    Free trade is good for the American economy, helps grow jobs and increases our gross domestic product. But giving trade promotion authority to Obama, who has flouted the Constitution, would harm the legislative branch’s credibility and our system of government. That potential damage outweighs the benefits of passing TPA now. After all, we know what Obama can do with executive actions and prosecutorial discretion.
    TPA would let the president negotiate trade agreements and have Congress consider legislation to enter into these trade agreements “under expedited legislative procedures.” There are legal obligations the president would have to meet when negotiating trade deals. TPA isn’t on paper a blank check to let the president do anything he wants in trade negotiations, like the blank check Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave Obama on the debt ceiling last year.

    TPA power has been granted by Congress to presidents since 1974. Authority for TPA expired in 2007 (Obama was able to finish some free trade deals since the negotiations had started before the authority expired). Obama hopes to have the legislation granting TPA done for him to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with a number of countries in the Pacific region. The current legislation to reauthorize TPA passed the Senate 62-37, and is on its way to the House for consideration.

    If TPA becomes law, each chamber will have little input before an up-or-down vote on passage of presidentially negotiated trade deals. The House and Senate won’t be able to debate and vote on amendments in their respective chambers.

    It is unlikely that members of the House or Senate will vote down a trade agreement if TPA becomes law. They would face incredible pressure not to turn down a deal that proponents say will increase jobs in the United States. Few politicians are willing to face that kind of withering attack to preserve the integrity of the House and the Senate in the face of repeated presidential overreach.

    As Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and an advocate of TPA, has explained, the TPA legislation has specific objectives that the president has to follow, and creates congressional advisory groups “to oversee the talks and receive regular briefings,” and the president must give to Congress a plan about how he would implement a proposed trade agreement if Congress approves it.

    Under TPA, the administration will also have to consult with members of Congress about trade negotiations and meet with members of Congress about them. Consultation by the administration with Congress would be an entirely new venture for an administration that has ignored and sidelined Congress for years. The historical record provides no evidence to support the belief that Obama would honor the letter, let alone the spirit, of these requirements.

    Ryan went on to explain, in an op-ed he co-authored in The Wall Street Journal with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that trade promotion authority will help Congress hold the president accountable to arrive at good trade deals. With this president, we run the risk that he will circumnavigate TPA to pursue global trade deals that don’t quite meet TPA requirements. Policymakers in Congress must learn and apply the lessons of six years of Obama’s use of prosecutorial discretion, executive orders, executive actions and signing statements to understand that he will not respect Congress.

    When Obama issued his illegal order on executive amnesty in November of last year, Boehner explained that “[y]ou can’t ask the elected representatives of the people to trust you to enforce the law if you’re constantly demonstrating that you can’t be trusted to enforce the law.” The Speaker is correct, as is his lawsuit against the president for executive overreach on ObamaCare — and the lawsuit by 26 states against his November constitutional surprise on illegal immigration.

    TPA is an important tool to help improve the American economy after six years of poor performance under Obama’s failed policies. But this has to be weighed against degrading the health of our constitutional form of government by giving TPA authority to a president acknowledged by many to operate in an extraconstitutional fashion. TPP would result in increased trade with a group of nations which accounts for almost 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. But granting TPA now to get to TPP would represent a loss of congressional self-respect that would difficult to measure.

    Congress should wait two years and then revisit TPA. Free trade matters tremendously and can help our ailing economy. But the Constitution and rule of law matter even more.

    Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC and a former Republican House staffer. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring.

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