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Obama’s new trade deal represents massive executive overreach

President Obama has a deal for America, two in fact: Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  TPA, or “fast track,” would force Congress to pass his TPP trade deal without exercising its constitutionally mandated duty to regulate foreign trade. Why? Because TPA does not allow Congress to alter even one comma in this secretly negotiated agreement.

If someone were to walk up to you on the street and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great deal for you,” common sense dictates that you’d ask for the details.  And if they said, “Don’t worry. I’ve been working on it for a while. Just sign here,” you’d rightly be reluctant.  The analogy may be simplistic, but it fits exactly what Obama is now asking of Congress in requesting fast track to close out the TPP.

{mosads}TPP is the controversial trade deal du jour, the latest in a long line, including: NAFTA, WTO, China, CAFTA, Columbia, Panama, Peru, South Korea, etc.  Each of these deals was touted as a boost for American industry and workers. Instead the U.S. has lost five million manufacturing jobs and 57,000 manufacturing establishments since 2000.

Thus fast track and TPP have turned into a political battle between the executive and legislative branches.  Members of Congress are justifiably troubled because Obama has negotiated the TPP without first asking Congress for authority to do so. That means Congress hasn’t been able to provide a vetted set of negotiating partners and objectives. Now the president is seeking fast-track authority to simply slam-dunk the finished package through Congress.

Claims that Congress can put the brakes on Obama and still have input by granting fast track now are nonsense. So are claims that Congress has been consulted multiple times.  Yes, some handpicked Members have been included.  But a handful of representatives do not represent Congress acting as a whole through a deliberative process. This blatant bypassing of Congress reduces TPP to a government-managed, crony-capitalist trade agreement. 

The bargain at the heart of fast track is supposed to work like this: Congress sets the negotiating partners and objectives, is consulted regularly as a body during negotiations, signs off as a body on any concessions or compromises, and, in exchange, gives up its rights to amend or filibuster the final agreement. With fast track done correctly, Congress effectively enjoys the status of a negotiating partner from the inception of talks.  Thus, there is no need for Congress to amend the document since it has been involved from the start and there are no surprises to correct.

Obama’s “negotiate-now-consult-afterwards” approach is a de facto rejection of the way fast track is designed to work. Instead, the Obama administration has relied mainly on itself and the advice of 600 non-governmental organizations, including many multinational corporations. These corporate advisors represent neither the American people nor the U.S. national interest. They represent only the parochial interests of their shareholders, officers, and directors.

The merits of TPP, in terms of adequately opening foreign markets and defending domestic U.S. manufacturers against predatory trade, are likely to be few if the past 20 years of trade deals are any guide. In any case, the merits are a separate issue from the constitutional defects posed by back-door dealing.  Even those who might conceptually support a “free trade” deal should oppose an agreement that is ramrodded through Congress.  And any agreement that runs to thousands of pages and includes carve-outs and special benefits for many industries can hardly be called “free trade.”

Therefore, trade critics and supporters alike must unite against this unprecedented executive power grab and reject an after-the-fact, fast track agreement.  Any alleged economic benefits of the TPP cannot be used as an excuse to bypass the Congress and the Constitution.

Kearns is president of the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC), a national business organization advocating for domestic U.S. manufacturers since 1933.


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