04.21.2015 2

No fast track trade shortcut for Obama

By Rick Manning

no fast trackPresident Barack Obama’s managed trade agenda hit the front burner when Congress returned as Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation granting the President fast track trade authority. The demand for fast track legislation was a focal point of President Obama’s January State of the Union Address, and Hatch’s introduction sets the stage for a nonpartisan legislative donnybrook over the issue.

At its core, the question is whether Congress will cede what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has termed, “an enormous grant of power” related to trade over to Obama or not.

While the Hatch legislation wraps fast track in a cloak of congressional demands that the President won’t meet in his almost-completed trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the essence of the legislation is that the Congress will agree to bring up the unchanged negotiated treaty within a year, with ratification only requiring a simple majority in both houses.

Should the President be denied fast track authority, the U.S. Constitution requires that any treaty submitted would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate for ratification. The House of Representatives would not have any ratification vote.

Normally, a Republican majority in both houses would virtually assure passage of fast track legislation designed to facilitate ratification of a treaty packaged as a free trade deal, but these are not normal times.

Republican members of Congress have spent six years pointing to the President’s excesses ranging from using the IRS to target conservative groups to an EPA that has engaged in regulatory jihad against energy producers while thumbing their nose at a protesting Congress.  They have watched this President declare that he cannot legally enact executive amnesty, and then watched him do it, and have been unwilling to take the steps necessary to assert their own constitutional prerogatives over the issue. They see the President take his Iranian nuke cave-in treaty as well as his China climate deal to the United Nations while denying that Congress has any role in the process.

Now, they are being asked to trust this same President to produce a trade deal that is good for the United States. A trade deal that has been negotiated in secret for almost five years with twelve Pacific Rim countries. A deal in which crony capitalist, multi-national business stakeholders have had a seat at the table, while the people’s representatives were excluded.

A Republican Congress that rails against both Obama’s abuse of power and the explosion of corporate cronyism is now being asked by their Senate and House leadership to trust that Obama has not played this same corporate crony political money game of picking winners and losers in rewriting the rules for the world’s economy. It takes a special willful blindness to have that faith.

Advocates of fast track argue that Members of Congress who voted for giving Obama fast track authority would vote down a bad deal using their simple majorities, but they won’t. This is certainly unlikely in the Senate which would need a filibuster-proof sixty votes to bring fast track to the floor, but only a simple majority vote to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  In the House, it would require those who voted to extend power to the President to vote against the very lobbyists who they joined in the TPA vote, an almost inconceivable occurrence.

Make no mistake, the most important vote on Obama’s fundamental transformation of the world economic rules is the vote on fast track.

The legislative battle has started over what the ground rules will be for the world’s economy, and, finally, congressional Republicans are in control.

Let’s hope they don’t blow it by failing to follow the constitutional treaty-making language to the letter and not forcing any deal submitted by the President to be subject to a two-thirds Senate vote for ratification. The stakes are too high to take short cuts.

The author is President of Americans for Limited Government.

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