President Obama’s GOP salesmen are telling fellow House members that fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA) will “constrain the president” to do what Congress wants when he negotiates the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Sounds reassuring, but there’s one problem: It’s just not true.
Pointing to the negotiating objectives the Senate-approved bill lays out, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) says that “TPA makes the president follow dozens of strict objectives in his negotiations so that your priorities come first — not his.”
First, let’s be clear: The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have been underway for six years. According to the U.S. trade representative, they are in the “end game” and will be wrapped up once TPA is approved. Scalise and company are a little late setting objectives for negotiations that have already taken place.
More importantly, if you look at the language of the TPA bill, you see the claim that TPA “makes the president follow dozens of strict objectives” is transparently false.
Section 103(b)(2) of the Trade Act of 2015 says a trade agreement will be considered under the expedited rules of TPA “if such agreement makes progress in meeting the applicable objectives described” (emphasis added).
Notice that it doesn’t say the agreement must meet the objectives, or even that it must meet 99 percent of the objectives. No, if it “makes progress” in meeting the objectives, that’s good enough. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.
And who decides if Obama made progress? The same folks desperate to get the deal through Congress in the first place.
Even if a member were to suggest that President Obama did not “make progress” in obeying the wishes of Congress (imagine that), the complaint would be referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his pro-TPA stalwarts would be under no obligation to bring the complaint up for a vote or send it to the full House. The move to cancel fast-track stands about as much chance as civil rights legislation in a Dixiecrat-run committee in the 1940s.
In addition to talking about make-believe handcuffs for the president, leadership’s salesmen are trading imaginary ice cream feasts and other goodies for TPA votes.
They are telling members who may have concerns, “Don’t worry, we have this customs enforcement bill and we’ll give you all kinds of goodies in that legislation — anti-dumping, currency manipulation, immigration, a pony, whatever you want — if you give me your vote on fast-track/TPA.”
Essentially, members are to give leadership their vote for TPA now, but wait for what they want in a separate bill in the future. But they’ll discover that the future never comes.
The customs bill, once amended with all the promised goodies, will have to go to conference. We don’t know who will be on the conference committee, but we do know Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have a say in it. Reid will also have a say as to what goodies added in the House will be taken out in the conference report. Do you trust Reid?
You shouldn’t. Reid hates TPA and could blow the whole thing up just out of spite. Will Senate Democrats approve the conference report? Another unknown.
What is known is that leadership gets what they want up front — votes for TPA — while everyone else gets an empty promise of an uncertain future.
As desperate for a deal as a San Fernando Valley, Calif. used car salesman, Obama’s GOP enablers are using fast talk to sell fast-track.
Let House members beware.
Ellis is executive director of the American Jobs Alliance, an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit organization.