Last week’s trade bill fight on Capitol Hill created some interesting political theater, including a number of inter-party squabbles. Most notably, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi bucked President Barack Obama at the last minute, which provided the death knell for the so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
To get you up to speed, the TPA is a controversial measure that would set limits on presidents’ negotiating power on trade agreements, but also put limits on the U.S. Senate once the agreement is set to be ratified. That will speed up the process of finalizing trade deals, hence the moniker “fast-track trade authority.”
The TPA will make possible trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), notably adding to the confusing alphabet soup of acronyms. But it’s the expected provisions in the TPP that make opposing TPA so important, opponents like Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions argue.
Last week, Sessions told conservative talk radio’s Sean Hannity the TPP would create a so-called Pacific Union akin to the flailing European Union and encroach on the United States’ sovereignty.
“I’ve been there three times and I can tell you it is far more than a trade agreement,” he said of the room housing the secret text of the TPP negotiations. “It is a creating of an economic union. The congressional resource said it is a wide-ranging political and economic partnership that is created where the Sultan of Brunei gets one vote. The president of the United States gets one vote. Twelve countries – they have the ability to add other treaties and pass them. They have the ability to deal with climate issues, wage issues and environmental issues. There’s just no doubt about that.”
Sessions was one of five Republicans in the Senate, the others being Sessions’ Alabama colleague Sen. Richard Shelby, along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, and Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), voting against the trade deal. The deal passed the Senate by a 62-37 margin.
However, it was later when the House took up the measure that the real fireworks took place. Sessions, whose fight in the Senate never stood much of chance, took to the airwaves to discourage the bill’s passage in the House.
Another Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who voted for the legislation, decided to publicly take on Sessions for his outspoken opposition to the TPA.
“It is simply false that the TPP trade agreement gives up our sovereignty,” Cruz said when asked about Sessions’ position on the trade bill by WRKO Boston’s Jeff Kuhner last week. “There is nothing in TPA or TPP that can give a foreign body the ability to make binding law in the United States of America under our Constitution.”
While most Americans that will vote on Election Day 2016 aren’t paying that much attention to this trade fight, the diehards are. And while Cruz’s reasoning may be valid, it was possibly a bad decision to go against Sessions, who seems to be the only conservative with gray hair taking on Washington on these hot-button issues, to give President Barack Obama’s administration more power.
That leads me to the next question: Although the trade authority legislation suffered a setback in the House last week, with a central piece going down in a 126-302 vote, why are Republicans looking to resuscitate this?
A headline on the Drudge Report last week declared the Alabama delegation could decide the fate of the trade deal. In last week’s vote, the delegation was split, with Reps. Robert Aderholt (R), Mike Rogers (R) and Terri Sewell (D) voting in the affirmative and Reps. Bradley Byrne (R), Martha Roby (R), Mo Brooks (R) and Gary Palmer (R) voting against the central piece called the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) — (again with the alphabet soup) — necessary to pass the version the Senate approved last month.
A separate vote on the actual TPA legislation occurred after the TAA was defeated, but without the TAA’s passage, the TPA vote was ceremonial. Again the Alabama delegation was split, with Reps. Byrne, Roby, Rogers and Sewell voting for it and Reps. Aderholt, Brooks and Palmer voting against.
Despite voting against the TAA, Byrne isn’t giving up on trade authority.
Mobile’s Republican congressman penned an op-ed for Yellowhammer News that was posted late Sunday, touting the need for this fast-track provision.
“I came to Washington to focus on solutions that grow the economy, advance a strong national defense and fight back against an out-of-control executive,” Byrne wrote. “Passing TPA fulfills each of those goals, and that’s why it earned my support.”
Even if you support it, what’s the rush? Obama will be out of office in a little over 500 days. Why can’t this wait until there is a Republican Congress with possibly a Republican president in the White House?
Maybe they’re looking at this in terms of a chessboard, trying to think three or four moves ahead. Would it be politically wise to pass a piece of legislation without having a Democratic Party foil to blame if it doesn’t work out as advertised? Are they afraid that a President Hillary Clinton would give a less favorable deal than Obama has? That seems a little hard to believe.
If someone can offer a good reason to the people of Alabama as to why there is a sense of urgency to get this done in the short-term and give some specifics on how it would benefit the people in the state, then you might have a chance at and winning over some support, even if you’re going against Jeff Sessions on the issue.
Thus far, no one has been able to do that.