Yesterday, Pacific Research Institute fellow Wayne Winegarden wrote a piece for us arguing that Congress should give President Obama fast track authority concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP):
Under a TPA, Congress would maintain a powerful voice over whether the U.S. would enter into the TPP agreement. However, Congress would only have the ability to conduct an up or down vote on the deal; it would not have the ability to amend the trade deal.
Such a commitment is important. It is unlikely that our trading partners will approve a free trade agreement with the U.S. knowing that the terms of that agreement could, and likely would, be endlessly changed or bottled up in Congressional committees due to amendments from any one of the 535 Members of Congress.
How can Congress have a powerful voice over whether the U.S. enters the TPP, if members of Congress are barely allowed to glance at it, much less allowed to keep aware of the proceedings? In July 2012, then U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk denied House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s request to observe a TPP negotiating meeting held in San Diego. Nearly three years later, members of Congress have no more idea what’s in TPP. Congress shouldn’t have to pass TPP to find out what’s in it like they did with Obamacare.
As for the TPP being “being endlessly changed or bottled up in Congressional committees due to amendments from any one of the 535 Members of Congress”, that’s the job of Congress. It is their job to deliberate, scrutinize, amend and improve legislation that comes before them up to and including trade agreements. Last I checked, Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.” If the TPP isn’t commerce with foreign nations then I don’t know what is?
Doesn’t it also occur to Winegarden that people in the other nations party to TPP might also want an opportunity to examine and debate the merits of TPP? In the article, Winegarden makes a brief reference to NAFTA. Well, before there was NAFTA there was the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement which occurred under the watch of President Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. While it’s true that Congress gave Reagan fast track approval, it was far more contentious in Canada. At one point, the Canadian government even took the trouble of mailing every Canadian a copy of the agreement. Now that’s how democracy works. The 1988 Canadian federal election centered around free trade. If the Tories had not been forthcoming with the details of the FTA, I doubt Canadians would have re-elected them.
I support free trade in principle and TPP might very well bring the U.S. and the other nations party to it greater economic prosperity. But the devil is in the details. Unless members of Congress are granted access to the negotiations and can keep themselves abreast of its details (up to and including keeping notes) then Congress should reject TPP, let alone give President Obama fast track approval.