North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen opened a recent conference in Brussels with a stirring call for renewed commitment to the political, economic and military bonds shared between North America and Europe. He called those bonds essential to “the international order that has been the foundation of our peace and prosperity,” and reminded his audience of another time when the peoples on both sides of the Atlantic worked together to defend that order.
Rasmussen invoked the anniversary of D-Day, recently commemorated on June 6th, when Allied armies landed in France to begin their march to free Europe from Nazi tyranny. He called it “an emotional reminder of the vital role that North Americans played in saving this continent from itself.” Indeed, it was especially stirring to watch earlier this month as heads of state and government from around the world – from those nations who were once at odds – gathered on the beach at Ouistreham. Together they paid their respects to a few old men, bowed with age but standing proud with dignity, who served on that fateful day, and to their comrades who fell in defense of liberty.
The international trade arena is hardly the shell-blasted sands of Omaha beach, but it still requires close cooperation between nations. And there is perhaps no greater opportunity to expand trade as that which lies with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which Rasmussen mentioned by name in his speech, calling it “key” to “[reinforcing] our economic ties.” TTIP, as it is also known, is an agreement currently under negotiation between the United States and the European Union countries design to streamline regulations and lift barriers affecting U.S. – E.U. trade – already a $3-billion-dollar-per-day enterprise.
Despite all the obvious incentives, TTIP is still being hijacked by petty political games. It remains stuck because the U.S. Congress refuses to pass legislation granting Trade Promotion Authority to the President. TPA allows the President and the Executive Branch – with close Congressional oversight – to more efficiently set up trade deals with other countries on behalf of the United States. Such TPA legislation was once routine, but since it expired in 2007, progress has been slow for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Congressional Democrats are its main foes – both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have come out against new legislation. Unsurprisingly, union bosses are propping up their opposition from the shadows. Big Labor bosses fear free trade because, as union membership continues to decline around the country, it challenges their outdated system and threatens to further erode their already-diminished relevance in the modern economy, not to mention dry up their fast-disappearing dues money. Apparently, however, union bosses still hold enough political clout to keep their allies in Congress away from TPA.
In essence, what was once a routine vote has now been held up by the interests of the select few attempting to hold on to the power they have left, no matter the cost to our economy. They’ve got the right vehicle for it, too – Democratic leaders in need of their donations to spread across the country in an election year. Despite stating his support, President Obama’s evident unwillingness to get his own party to budge is allowing this unnecessary shell game to continue. Surely that can change.
DeMaura is president of Americans for Job Security, a pro-business organization.