Lew: TPP can get done in the lame-duck session

Lew: TPP can get done in the lame-duck session
© Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor

Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewLobbying World Russian sanctions will boomerang Obama talks up Warren behind closed doors to wealthy donors MORE on Thursday expressed confidence that Congress will pass President Obama's signature trade agreement after the November elections.

Lew, who has remained consistently upbeat about the prospects of ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), said a vote for the massive Asia-Pacific deal in the lame-duck session should be easier for lawmakers than the one they cast last summer for trade promotion authority. 

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“I think we can get there,” Lew said at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

He argued that the TPP deal, completed a year ago this week, meets the high bar set by Congress on issues such as improving labor and environmental standards, while giving the United States more control to shape the terms of global trade.

"I think we've produced an agreement that can withstand careful scrutiny,” Lew said.

Trade gets blamed too often for job losses and other problems within the economy that make TPP and other trade agreements a more difficult sell to Americans and lawmakers, he said. 

But he acknowledged that more needs to be done to help workers and that, for example, discussions about funding job training programs like the Trade Adjustment Assistance should be ongoing and not just center on when trade deals are up for approval. 

“I don’t think this is about TPP," Lew said.

"I think what this is really about is what we are doing to address the concerns that people have that government needs to be meeting domestic needs,” he said.

“If we were investing more in infrastructure, which I believe we should, if we were investing more and more smartly in education and training and in child care, I’m not so sure we’d be in the same place," he said.

Lew said he expects that the Obama administration will prevail on the TPP behind the quality of the economic and geopolitical arguments.

“I think it's fair to say that if you win the argument that a trade agreement grows the economy, you should be most of the way there,” he said. 

“You should be able to make the case that a growing economy is better than a shrinking economy or one growing less quickly.”

When asked whether he and the White House anticipated the growing animosity toward trade — Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE and Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE each oppose the TPP — the Treasury secretary said that trade and expanding globalization have been a hard sell for decades. 

"Having worked on trade legislation over the course of four decades, it's never been easy," Lew said. "Its always been contentious, and I think in the current economic environment we should and did anticipate it was going to be hard."

Talk about trade on the campaign trail has been particularly toxic amid the administration's full-court press to get the TPP done this year or risk the geopolitical and economic fallout.

“We have an economic and geopolitical imperative here that’s very strong,” Lew said.