Before heading off to China to serve as our nation’s ambassador, Max Baucus (D-MT), in one of his final acts as chairman of the Senate Finance committee joined Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, yesterday to introduce the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, more commonly referred to as “fast track.”
This legislation is critical step towards passage of a pernicious trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Minutes after the bill’s introduction, consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen emailed reporters their press release with a subject line asking if Fast Track was “DOA”?
At first glance – the bill, that has the support of the President and the lobbying and financial muscle of the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups behind it, looks like a pretty good bet.
Regardless, proponents of fast track and the TPP have a steep hill to climb — particularly in the House of Representatives. Already 151 Democrats are on the record telling the White House “we will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.”
At present sources on the Hill tell me the actually number in opposition is closer to 170. Add to that the 22 House Republicans who wrote a letter to the President opposing Fast Track based on their belief that Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress “exclusive authority” on trade.
With that opposition in mind, John Boehner will need to convince the vast majority of his caucus to essentially do the White House a solid, passing a bill that would vastly expand the President’s authority, not only on trade but over vast areas of domestic policy that would be impacted by the treaty. Boehner and House Republicans are well aware that NAFTA’s track record of sending jobs overseas has been heavily embedded in the minds of many voters making trade treaties like TPP politically toxic pieces of legislation.
In the current climate – where Republicans refuse to pass popular bills, such as the expansion of unemployment benefits advocated by the President, why would anyone believe they will suddenly band together to support a highly unpopular piece of legislation that will surely get attacked from both the left and right?
Public Citizen is probably right. Fast track and the TPP are DOA. So why would Baucus introduce the bill in his final month in the Senate, only to see it fail?
Right now as negotiations over the TPP reach their conclusion our trading partners in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam recognize that without fast track their years long negotiation, and numerous concessions they have offered the United States in areas such as copyright and intellectual property are for naught. There is no way the treaty survives in Congress without the expedited procedure.
Desperation on the part of our negotiators to prove their ability to deliver a ratified treaty was evident in the lead up to the latest round of TPP negotiations in December. Supporters in Congress eagerly leaked to The New York Times claims fast track passage was on the horizon. “A congressional aide close to the negotiations said that both sides had made significant progress on reaching a fast-track deal, also known as trade-promotion authority,” wrote reporter Annie Lowry.
The article bluntly stated “They are expected to bring forward a bill next week, during the last few days Congress will be in session this year.” That deadline went unmet.
The New York Times piece was designed to reassure trading partners that they weren’t simply offering concessions to the United States for a trade treaty that would never come to be. In fact, that’s exactly what they were doing.
By introducing fast track now, Baucus and Camp are engaged in the second act of this theatrical performance, hoping that if they can keep up the ruse, it will become a reality.