The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

The TPA Debate: Fears & Facts about “Fast-Track”

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


When Chicken Little said “The sky is falling!” and convinced his barnyard brethren of the same, the facts notwithstanding, he practically invented fear-mongering. Trade liberalization opponents are engaged in their own version of spreading false and misleading information by claiming that so-called “fast track” legislation is fraught with end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it perils. Just as the falling acorn was a whopping example of misdirection, so too is much of the current opposition. Legislators, taxpayers, and the media should separate fear from fact during this critical debate over trade liberalization.

FEAR #1: TPA gives too much power to President Obama and allows him to change any law at any time.

FACT: The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (TPA), S. 995 and H.R. 1890, which passed the Senate by a vote of 62-38 on May 23, establishes the parameters within which a president can negotiate a treaty with other nations. The legislation constrains, rather than expands, presidential powers. According to a May 14 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the President already has the inherent authority to negotiate trade agreements with other countries. The report notes that any changes in U.S. law that would be necessary as a result of any such agreement can only be made by Congress; a reaffirmation of this requirement is included in the legislation itself. In other words, fears about President Obama – or any President – using TPA as the basis for unilaterally changing any law related to immigration, labor, the environment, or any other matter, are completely unfounded.

FEAR #2: During the course of trade negotiations and after an agreement is concluded, Congress has no recourse.

FACT: The TPA legislation contains more than a dozen transparency and accountability provisions, some of which are unprecedented. Any member of Congress may read the negotiating text and attend negotiating rounds. The completed agreement must be published 60 days before it is signed by the President, allowing full review by Congress and the public. And if the agreement has not been negotiated by the President as prescribed under the parameters set forth in the TPA bill, a Consultation and Compliance Resolution (CCR) may be considered by either chamber if the respective revenue committee reports a trade agreement without a favorable recommendation or if a member of Congress introduces a CCR with other than a favorable recommendation. The CCR would state that the President failed to comply or consult with Congress on trade negotiations in accordance with the TPA, and fast track procedures would not apply to implementing legislation for such a trade agreement. Under the current TPA, this decision could be made solely by one chamber, without the consent of the other chamber or the approval of the President.

FEAR #3: Americans will be forced to buy a “pig in a poke,” since two of the agreements that would be considered under TPA have already been the subject of years of secret negotiations.

FACT: TPA establishes a timeframe following the completion of an agreement that allows the American people to learn the provisions of the trade deal before Congress votes on the measure. It also includes robust reporting requirements on the effects of a trade agreement and makes those reports public. Ironically, without TPA, Congress could be kept in the dark. By their nature, international trade agreements are the subject of considerable, often heated negotiations between all of the potential trading partners as each (understandably) tries to ensure the greatest possible advantage for themselves. To pretend that this is not the case, with or without legislative instruments like TPA, is simply naïve, not to mention unrealistic. However, when the horse-trading is done, any agreement is still subject to extraordinary consultation and transparency provisions.

FEAR #4: TPA will cause job losses in the U.S. and adversely impact the economy.

FACT: The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is currently negotiating two key trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), both of which would be considered under the procedures set forth in the TPA legislation. Each provides opportunities for the U.S. to expand its reach into the global market, while protecting and promoting U.S. goods overseas.

The TPP countries include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. According to the USTR, U.S. exports to TPP countries totaled $698 billion (44 percent of U.S. goods exported overseas) in 2013.

The T-TIP agreement, being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union (EU), seeks to increase economic growth on both sides, while adding to the 13 million-plus American and EU jobs already supported by transatlantic trade and investments.

Another reason to support the trade agreements is the inclusion of critical provisions to promote, protect, and enforce intellectual property rights. In particular, the U.S. is seeking to enhance joint leadership with the EU on IP rights issues, as well as new opportunities to advance and defend the interests of U.S. creators, innovators, businesses, farmers, and workers, including their ability to compete in foreign markets.

FEAR #5: TPA is not necessary to establishing beneficial trade agreements for the U.S.

FACT: While many details of pending trade agreements may have been discussed among potential trading partners by this point, the reality is that none of these entities will address the most critical issues unless and until they are convinced that the U.S. can negotiate in good faith. TPA creates an admittedly rare “united front” between Congress and the president, enhancing the probability of concluding the best agreement possible. Our negotiating partners, confident that Congress will not rewrite an agreement, will work harder to reach a deal that is less likely to be voted down (the Damoclean sword that Congress thus holds over the process).

Facts, more stubborn than fears, lead to the following conclusion: TPA is essential to securing trade agreements that help create more jobs and higher wages, while ensuring that the United States is writing the rules and continuing its leadership role in the global economy. Without TPA, the probability of securing any such agreement is severely diminished and will ensure that the U.S. will be left with no place to sit at the trade negotiating table.

Chicken Little’s misplaced fears resulted in his being consumed by the ravenous Foxy Loxy. Likewise, TPA will prevent America’s lunch from being eaten by those unfazed by the subterfuge, gobbling up global markets for themselves.

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