Trans Pacific Partnership Roundup: On the Eve of Its Fast Track House Vote, The Politics Remain Twisted

Until fast track passes, no one can really be sure how to act about the trade pact itself.


Tomorrow the House of Representatives is expected to vote on granting fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to President Obama regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. (Similar bills that have already passed the Senate in some version.)

Today the Washington Times sums up some of the politicking going on on the eve of this long awaited vote:

the House narrowly approved the rules for debate for the bigger trade bills ahead: assistance for workers displaced by trade deals; stiffer enforcement to ensure other countries are following trade standards; and the big one, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which grants fast-track negotiating powers to the president.

Eight Democrats joined most Republicans in the House on the debate rules, signaling the outlines of the bipartisan coalition Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner have forged…

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, refused to tell reporters Thursday how she'll vote on TPA Friday even if Republicans make one final adjustment to extend the trade assistance to public-sector workers — a priority for her party…..

Mr. Obama is reaching out to Democrats in an effort to win over final votes, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

"Everybody from the president on down, including many members of his team here at the White House and his economic team across the administration, are making an aggressive case to members of Congress about why they should support this trade package that is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives over the next couple of days," Mr. Earnest said. "Democrats and Republicans should be able to seize common ground to advance values that they share."

I wrote about the political troubles of the pact back in late April (including the thoughts of the House's Freedom Caucus), and also about the complicated practical and ideological issues such pacts present for free-trade mavens.

To help the non-expert think through the TPP, from how it got to this stage to where it might go, it will likely be quite helpful to consult this essay from Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute.

Ikenson explains that voting for TPA this week does not obligate anyone to vote for the actual TPP in the (much later) up and down vote when the actual pact comes before Congress: 

Before any agreement is put to a vote in Congress, the final details of the agreement are published and made available to the public for a minimum of five months, and possibly as many as nine months. If the concluded trade agreement meets Congress's parameters and fulfills its objectives, legislation to implement the agreement is considered without amendments on an expedited timetable by an up-or-down vote. If the agreement fails to meet Congress's parameters or fulfill its objectives, it can be taken off the so-called fast-track through a resolution of disapproval. And, ultimately, members and senators can vote "no" if they don't like the contents of the agreement.

What can we expect from the TPP itself?

The final agreement would presumably include 29 chapters with rules governing various aspects of trade and trade-related policies, such as labor standards, environmental standards, government procurement, intellectual property, investment rules, supply chains, state-owned enterprises, and more….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.

The domestic-market access offered to induce foreign-market openings to U.S. exporters is what delivers those benefits to U.S. consumers, taxpayers, and businesses. However, trade agreements also include terms that explicitly protect domestic producers from competition, and those provisions reduce—or at least impede—economic freedom. A final TPP agreement will include terms that are both liberalizing and protectionist, so the answer to the question of whether the agreement should be supported would seem to depend on the specifics of its provisions.

Which, alas, we don't know yet. Which means? We have to pass TPA to even have a chance for we or our elected representatives to get to see, understand, and carefully consider where we/they should stand on TPP. Ikenson also has some good summations of various complex parliamentary and procedural issues between the version of the trade bills that passed the Senate and the ones the House is voting on tomorrow, most likely.

One of the thornier points is:

The TAA 2015 [passed by the Senate] would expand and extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which is a federal entitlement program that offers training and financial assistance to U.S. workers who claim to have been adversely impacted by imports or outsourcing. The bill authorizes $450 million of annual appropriations through June 30, 2021.

As has been the case historically, the TPA and TAA bills were packaged together as the Trade Act of 2015, a move assumed necessary to permit enough Democrats to support TPA. But there may be stronger opposition to TAA now than ever before, as the program's purpose, cost, and efficacy are increasingly in doubt among Republicans and many Democrats dislike the fact that the budget offsets come primarily from other entitlement programs.

My emailbox this week is filled with anti-TPP press releases from concerned progressive and some libertarian/conservative groups, including Money Out Voters In, the John Birch Society, Campaign for America's Future, Wikileaks, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Natural Resources Defense Coucil, Demand Progress, MoveOn.org, and Sen. Rand Paul.

In other TPP politics news, some are concerned that foreigners are paying former politicians to lobby for the pact. And National Journal reports on some contretemps among conservative movement types as the Heritage Foundation's campaigning arm, Heritage Action, advises against a pro-TPA vote that House Speaker Boehner and most Republicans want, in an attempt to get Boehner to act on a separate matter, letting the Export-Import Bank  die:

[Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.] and Republican leadership had been working in close communication with outside groups like Heritage to try and ensure they—at the very least—stayed neutral on the bill. When Heritage Action made its announcement, one Republican leadership aide said there was palpable frustration.

"It is total fiction. No one in this chamber is talking about Ex-Im and trade in the same breath," the aide said. "They have concocted a false pretense to oppose a bill."

Heritage Action says it tried to work closely with Republican leaders, but concluded in the end that they were not willing to make the concessions the group was asking for.

"We have been very clear since May 22 that conservatives should be using this opportunity to leverage TPA and get Boehner and McConnell on the record on Ex-Im," [Dan] Holler [of Heritage Action] said.

Tom Rooney, a Republican deputy whip, said that while he once relied on the Heritage Foundation's policy papers and leaders when he was a freshman studying up on issues, he's grown tired of many of the outside groups' tactics.

For fans of puckish sort-of amusing political website humor: Read the TPP!