“Fast Track” Authority Expected to Pass Congress
A top legislator in Washington is confident that legislation will clear some remaining legal hurdles and become law, giving the White House so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate international agreements without the threat of Congressional amendment or filibuster.
The next round of talks aimed at renewing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is set to begin next month with the expectation that a deal could be struck at that time “with bi-partisan support,” says Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ryan, whose powerful committee oversees trade legislation, is seen as the standard bearer for renewed TPA on Capitol Hill. Speaking at a recent meeting of the Washington (D.C.) International Trade Association, Ryan, whose committee oversees the flow of trade legislation, said, “We’re in active discussions with our counterparts over in the Senate and I’m optimistic about those.”
Renewed TPA would allow the president to submit both the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreements to Congress for straight up-or-down votes without any amendments. Ryan argued the legislation was much more than that, since it is the primary means by which Congress tells the executive branch what it wants in trade agreements.
“We say to the administration, if you want this up-or-down vote, you have to meet three requirements: Number one, you have to follow our guidelines. Number two, you have to talk to us. And number three, you have to remember: We get the final say,” Ryan said, comparing the legislation to a “contract” between Congress and the White House.
Congress and the Obama administration “must work together to seek the best way to move forward,” he said while voicing a cautionary note acknowledging that there are a number of issues from currency manipulation to market access that need to be addressed before TPA becomes a reality.
“The countries we have agreements with, we have a manufacturing surplus with,” Ryan said. “If you look at the countries we do not have agreements with, we have a big trade deficit with, so getting agreements is good for our workers, it’s good for manufacturing, it’s good for agriculture.”
Critics of renewed TPA say that big business has had the greatest influence on past trade negotiations, which is one reason why the programs have failed to create the jobs promised. They believe using fast track to reach agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership will produce the same disappointing results.
“We do trade deals knowing we’re going to have increased trade deficits,” according to Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen in one media report. “There’s not one good reason for doing it.”
On the other hand, a number of industry groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, have come out in favor of renewed TPA. “It’s certainly something that’s very valuable to have,” said Chris Moore, the group’s senior director of international trade policy. “It’s really important for job growth and competitiveness.”
Another is the Software & Information Industry Association, which has urged 18 Democratic members of the House of Representatives “to support President Obama’s call for Trade Promotion Authority.” Renewed TPA, the group said, “would promote trade deals that include provisions on data flows and intellectual property that are crucial to the American economy and our workers.”
The trade group said that U.S. businesses of all types, whether a major international software company or small online retailer, “provide services and goods that require the unimpeded global flow of data. TPA would encourage modern trade agreements that recognize this vital need, and that are crucial to our business and economic competitiveness.”