Republican Congressional leadership has been working with President Obama to pass trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast track” trade legislation. There is nothing radical about this; pretty much every post-war president has had such authority. But times have changed, in at least a couple of respects.
First, the traditional purpose of trade agreements has been to reduce tariff barriers. As a free trader, I think this is a great thing. But as tariffs have become pretty much extinct, the main focus now is on non-tariff barriers. If we are talking about quotas, fine; free traders will say, get rid of them. But it isn’t that simple. Environmental regulation, or the lack thereof, can also be considered a non-tariff barrier. There is a real risk that a liberal administration may use trade negotiations to commit the United States to domestic policies that Congress would never pass.
Second, through most of our history, we could count on the administration in power to watch out for American workers. But that is no longer true. The Obama administration represents an alliance of the wealthy, the government-dependent, the culturally aggrieved, and government employees and contractors. (There is considerable overlap among those groups.) Working-class Americans do not figure in the Obama administration’s, or the Democratic Party’s, calculations. So I have zero faith that trade agreements negotiated by the Obama administration will be intended to benefit American workers, who have taken a terrible battering since Obama assumed the presidency.
If trade promotion authority passes, several agreements are waiting in the wings, most notably the Trans Pacific Partnership. The terms of the TPP, as they have so far been negotiated, are secret, but can be viewed in a special room by members of Congress. Some of what has leaked out about TPP is cause for concern. The President’s trade representative has said:
We will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement… Our proposals would enhance international cooperation and create new opportunities for public participation in environmental governance and enforcement… The United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter.
So, what does the environmental chapter say? No one knows, except perhaps those who have seen the secret document.
Worse, news reports indicate that TPP also includes provisions on immigration that promote the “mobility of labor.” Will TPP commit the U.S. to allowing even more immigration of low-skill workers, on top of the historically unprecedented levels we are already accommodating? No one seems to know, or be willing to say.
Further, TPP would establish a commission that can enter into new agreements so that TPP is a “living document.” We know how well that works.
Senator Jeff Sessions, the Republican in Washington who most looks out for American workers, is adamantly opposed to granting President Obama fast track authority:
A vote for fast-track is a vote to erase valuable procedural and substantive powers of Congress concerning a matter of utmost importance involving the very sovereignty of this nation. Without any doubt, the creation of this living commission with all its powers will erode the power of the American people to directly elect—or dismiss from office—the people who impact their lives.
The Democrats want us to be like the European Union, where millions of people are ruled by unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels, and national interests are subordinated to the welfare of the trans-national class of the rich, fashionable and politically connected.
Toward that end, the Obama administration has consistently sold out American workers for the last 6 1/2 years, in order to serve its corporate sponsors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Any power we give the Obama administration likely will be used to pursue further sellouts. The time has come to put the brakes on the Left’s effort to drive down the wages of American workers to benefit the “Masters of the Universe,” as Sessions likes to put it.
Republicans should vote No on trade promotion authority. We need to slow down this process and get a better understanding of what the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade deals mean for America’s future. And if we are going to grant broad negotiating authority on behalf of the American people, we should grant it to an administration that actually cares about the American people, and not just super-rich donors. Republicans should vote No tomorrow.