Obama is lobbying Democrats to support the bi-partisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) Bill, which gives him special fast track authority to negotiate trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The twelve nation deal, which is currently stalled, would be the largest deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 with Mexico and Canada. The Trade Promotion Authority Bill would give Congress the ability to deliver an up or down vote on TPP, but does not give them the authority to amend the agreement. The legislation was developed by Finance Committee Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), along with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). President Obama makes the case that deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe are critical to US trade competition.
Although the deal is moving forward, its passage is not guaranteed. While Obama has secured the support of Republican House Speaker John Boehner for the TPA and other Republicans, he is having difficulty garnering support from his own party. Harry Reid, the retiring Senate Minority Leader, opposes the bill. But his presumed successor, Chuck Schumer (D-New York), supports the bill. Democratic Presidential front runner Hillary Clinton has waffled on the issue. A few years ago, she was a proponent of free trade agreements, but now she is dialing back her earlier position. Many Democrats are opposed to the TPA claiming that trade deals that are currently in progress would hurt American workers and weaken US regulatory protection. Senator Wyden, one of the bill’s sponsors, has defended the legislation, saying that it includes enforceable protections for worker rights, environmental issues and human rights. Senator Wyden also raised the issue that fast track ability would also create protections for a free and open internet. “The reality is most of those trade bills were written before anyone had any idea about iPhones,” he said. Furthermore, the TPA includes a provision that the President must publish information about potential trade agreements 60 days in advance of signing them, giving Congress and the public ample time to weigh in on them.
The Trade Promotion Authority Bill is a rare example of Obama finding common ground with Republicans but having difficulty rallying support from his own party. Democrats would be wise to get past the myopic view that deals such as the TPP are detrimental to American workers and US regulatory control. They need to see the bigger picture. The US needs to be able to negotiate trade deals swiftly without internal bottlenecks. Without this nimbleness, we run the risk of letting other world powers such as China gain the upper hand in exports.
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