Debate Heats Up on Renewal of Trade Promotion Authority
There has been a flurry of statements and letters concerning the trade promotion authority bill since its introduction in the House and Senate Jan. 9. Supporters say TPA is needed to conclude and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements now under negotiation, which they say will expand trade with these important regions and thereby increase U.S. employment. Opponents, meanwhile, range from those who say the TPA bill as currently written is inadequate to those who oppose granting TPA at all.
The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, along with House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp, R-Mich., would establish congressional negotiating objectives and rules for the White House to follow when engaged in trade talks. When these rules are followed, legislation to implement negotiated trade agreements would receive expedited consideration by lawmakers and would not be subject to amendment. The bill would authorize TPA for four years, with an option to renew for an additional three years.
The bill’s introduction was welcomed by the Obama administration, which has consistently urged lawmakers to renew TPA, but it does not currently have the full support of congressional Democrats. Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., said the Baucus/Hatch/Camp bill “has fallen far short of adequately replacing the failed 2002 TPA model” and that what is needed is “a more robust structure that meets today’s challenges.” Levin’s concerns were echoed in a Jan. 15 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 11 Democratic senators, who said that “renewal of TPA in a form that resembles [the 2002 law] would be unacceptable” and that “TPA must be replaced with a new trade agreement negotiation and approval process appropriate to 21st century trade agreements and consistent with the constitutional role of Congress in trade.” The senators said they favor stronger provisions on transparency, congressional involvement, currency manipulation, labor, the environment and other issues, which Levin is working to include in his own TPA legislation.
Other Democrats have also shown hesitation to support the Baucus/Hatch/Camp bill. Many are concerned about a lack of transparency into, and congressional involvement in setting the priorities for, the trade agreements that TPA would be used to implement. Others (joined by a few dozen Republicans) have said they oppose delegating to the White House the authority given by the Constitution to Congress to regulate international trade. There are also those who believe previous trade liberalization agreements have damaged the U.S. economy and are unlikely to vote for a measure that would expedite more such pacts.
House Republican leaders believe their members will support TPA and are pushing for at least 50 Democratic votes for the bill. Republicans have called on President Obama to get personally involved to shore up those votes but acknowledge that senior administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman, have been more active in working to bolster Democratic support. Some Democrats, in turn, say the price of their approval may be compromises such as extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program or tougher provisions on certain issues. While some Republican members have raised concerns about TPA, International Trade Daily quoted former Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, as saying that “conservatives will embrace this bill because it increases economic freedom while directing any White House to negotiate trade agreements to the priorities of Congress.”
Given the intensity of the rhetoric on both sides, prospects for enactment of a TPA bill remain unclear. Senate Finance held a hearing on the Baucus/Hatch/Camp bill on Jan. 16, and there are reports that the committee could mark up the bill within the next few weeks. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will wait until a clearer consensus on the bill emerges among Democrats before deciding whether to bring it up for a vote. The fact that Baucus will likely be departing in the next few months to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, and the reported interest of his likely successor, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in strengthening parts of Baucus’ TPA bill, will also likely complicate matters.