There’s No Good Conservative Case Against Fast-Track Trade Authority

 

shutterstock_142905070 (1)The Senate Finance Committee is taking up the topic of “fast track” trade authority today, which would empower President Obama to negotiate trade deals, namely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious free-trade area that would cover most of our Asian trading partners (except China) and rival the European Union in size. Some conservatives, however, are resisting the proposal, claiming that it only further consolidates power in an already out-of-control executive. While I’ve been a staunch critic of President Obama’s executive overreach, I don’t think that argument holds up here. As I write at National Review:

…Critics are missing the mark by confusing fast track with Obama’s executive power grabs. Fast track does not delegate any power to the executive branch. Under fast track, the president does not exercise any new authority that he lacked before. Under normal constitutional practice, the president negotiates an international agreement and then submits it to Congress for approval. Fast-track doesn’t change that fundamental order. President Obama can negotiate any agreement he likes, and Congress is free to vote it up or down.

Instead, fast track lives up to its name: It gives expedited congressional consideration to any trade agreement. It promises that any trade agreement will be considered within a short period of time and without amendments — promises necessary in order for our trade partners to take negotiations seriously. Fast track only changes the internal procedures of Congress, which are only within Congress’s power to change, on the timing and speed of the vote on the agreement. In fact, there are some innovations in the bill that might allow even a negative vote in the House and Senate committees to effectively derail a bill. If the executive branch does not closely consult and engage Congress, the bill could also lose the promise of an expedited vote. In that event, any Obama trade pact would undergo the rules that apply to any ordinary bill, which could never come up for a vote or be so encumbered with amendments that our foreign partners will pull out.

What do you think? Should conservatives support fast track trade authority? Is the expansion of global free trade in America’s national interest?

There are 17 comments.

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  1. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Glad to find issues on which John Yoo and I agree completely.

    • #1
  2. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    I agree that TPP is fine on Conservative principles.  I just hate it for other reasons.

    I think it will cost American jobs and be, in general, bad for the regular folk.

    • #2
  3. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    By eliminating or reducing tariffs, free trade treaties diminish government power over the free market.  It’s an unusual step for the Obama administration to take.  I say let’s fast track this baby before Obama wakes up and remembers his dream is more government control, not less.

    • #3
  4. user_252181 Moderator
    user_252181
    @AlFrench

    Doesn’t fast track bastardize the Constitutional requirement for 2/3 senatorial  treaty approval in a way similar to Corker-Menendez?  There has been much criticism on the right about that proposal, although, come to think about it, I haven’t heard Mr. Yoo on the subject.

    • #4
  5. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Al French:Doesn’t fast track bastardize the Constitutional requirement for 2/3 senatorial treaty approval in a way similar to Corker-Menendez? There has been much criticism on the right about that proposal, although, come to think about it, I haven’t heard Mr. Yoo on the subject.

    That’s not my understanding, but I’m no expert.

    • #5
  6. viruscop Member
    viruscop
    @Viruscop

    Randy Weivoda:By eliminating or reducing tariffs, free trade treaties diminish government power over the free market. It’s an unusual step for the Obama administration to take. I say let’s fast track this baby before Obama wakes up and remembers his dream is more government control, not less.

    Or, and this is just a guess but hear me out, you have been misunderstanding Obama’s motivations this entire time.

    • #6
  7. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    viruscop:

    Randy Weivoda:By eliminating or reducing tariffs, free trade treaties diminish government power over the free market. It’s an unusual step for the Obama administration to take. I say let’s fast track this baby before Obama wakes up and remembers his dream is more government control, not less.

    Or, and this is just a guess but hear me out, you have been misunderstanding Obama’s motivations this entire time.

    If you have a list of examples where Barack Obama has acted to restrict government authority and expand freedom – especially on economic matters – I’m all ears.

    • #7
  8. viruscop Member
    viruscop
    @Viruscop

    Randy Weivoda:

    viruscop:

    Randy Weivoda:By eliminating or reducing tariffs, free trade treaties diminish government power over the free market. It’s an unusual step for the Obama administration to take. I say let’s fast track this baby before Obama wakes up and remembers his dream is more government control, not less.

    Or, and this is just a guess but hear me out, you have been misunderstanding Obama’s motivations this entire time.

    If you have a list of examples where Barack Obama has acted to restrict government authority and expand freedom – especially on economic matters – I’m all ears.

    Well, I don’t know about Obama making it his policy to increase the supply of intangible objects such as freedom, but he did support and ultimately sign free trade deals that had stalled for years.

    • #8
  9. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Milton Friedman convinced me decades ago that free trade is unambiguously and thoroughly good. It doesn’t matter that Obama will be the one negotiating, so long as trade is freer after the negotiation than it was before. It is only through free trade that the power of comparative advantage can be maximized, making all participants better off on average.

    • #9
  10. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Frank Soto:

    Al French:Doesn’t fast track bastardize the Constitutional requirement for 2/3 senatorial treaty approval in a way similar to Corker-Menendez? There has been much criticism on the right about that proposal, although, come to think about it, I haven’t heard Mr. Yoo on the subject.

    That’s not my understanding, but I’m no expert.

    No, he’s right. If you think that Corker-Menendez is Unconstitutional, you should feel the same way about the NAFTA, the admission of Texas into the Union, and all manner of other laws passed by Congress that aligned with Presidential actions.

    I mean, obviously, none of those things are problems, but there’s been a fringe movement against them for a long time; Ron Paul was a particular advocate. With Obama being in charge, the fringe movement increased; Walter Jones, Paul Broun, Don Young, Steve Stockman, and, disappointingly, Michelle Bachmann, along with some other Congressmen, all opposed it in the last Congress.

    • #10
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    viruscop:

    Randy Weivoda:

    viruscop:

    Randy Weivoda:By eliminating or reducing tariffs, free trade treaties diminish government power over the free market. It’s an unusual step for the Obama administration to take. I say let’s fast track this baby before Obama wakes up and remembers his dream is more government control, not less.

    Or, and this is just a guess but hear me out, you have been misunderstanding Obama’s motivations this entire time.

    If you have a list of examples where Barack Obama has acted to restrict government authority and expand freedom – especially on economic matters – I’m all ears.

    Well, I don’t know about Obama making it his policy to increase the supply of intangible objects such as freedom, but he did support and ultimately sign free trade deals that had stalled for years.

    They’d been stalled for years of Obama’s administration. Bush signed them in ’07, and they’d have gone through Congress then if Obama had supported them (McCain did, rabidly). Instead, he chose to delay for years, eventually making an effort to renegotiate them to make them a little less freedom supporting and then easily got them through Congress.

    Obama’s not shown any real interest in trade promotion negotiation that wasn’t already completed by Bush; he’s the first President since Hoover to fail to do so. His appointment of Ron Kirk was by far the least serious of his cabinet appointments when he took office (literally; in Hard Choices, Clinton reveals that he was chosen in part in order to provide comic relief on State Department visits).

    Your other traditional line of argument, that this isn’t a Red/ Blue argument, holds here. Clinton, Carter, LBJ, JFK, Truman, and FDR were all relatively sound on the issue. Daschle and his predecessors were similarly non-terrible. It really is the case that Obama and Reid (to be fair to Obama, particularly Reid) are uniquely terrible on this issue.

    Of course, Calvin Coolidge was also bad here; not every trade villain is a progressive.

    • #11
  12. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Jordan Wiegand:I agree that TPP is fine on Conservative principles. I just hate it for other reasons.

    I think it will cost American jobs and be, in general, bad for the regular folk.

    Is that because trade is bad, because the revenues lost from tariffs would help support American jobs, or for some other reason?

    • #12
  13. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    James Of England:

    Is that because trade is bad, because the revenues lost from tariffs would help support American jobs, or for some other reason?

    Trade is great, but TPP isn’t about trade, it’s about opening cheap and unregulated labor markets to the US.  So called “Free Trade” agreements are a suckers bet for the American worker (or any developed nation I would argue).  I was fairly young when NAFTA happened, but after reading a little history on the topic, it looks that a lot of Americans are still waiting for all the promised good things to happen.

    What appears to have happened is that Americans lost about a million manufacturing jobs to Mexico.  It’s unfair to pin all of that on NAFTA because manufacturing generally diminished due to automation and increasing productivity, but I’d rather the diminished pool of jobs stay here.

    And upon further thinking on the topic, the Conservative case against TPP is that we have no idea what is it in because it is secret.  But I guess we have to pass it to find out what’s in it right?  It’s a rare thing for me to agree with Elizabeth Warren, but when you’re right, you’re right.

    • #13
  14. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Jordan Wiegand:

     I was fairly young when NAFTA happened, but after reading a little history on the topic, it looks that a lot of Americans are still waiting for all the promised good things to happen.

    What appears to have happened is that Americans lost about a million manufacturing jobs to Mexico. It’s unfair to pin all of that on NAFTA because manufacturing generally diminished due to automation and increasing productivity, but I’d rather the diminished pool of jobs stay here.

    If those lost jobs were only in existence because of protectionism, that means that the American industry was inefficient. The labor that is freed up by moving those jobs elsewhere can be put to more productive use here. Let the poor Mexicans stand at the assembly line doing work that actually adds more value than they are paid.

    Both Mexico and the United States end up richer as a consequence of free trade.

    Consider the opposite scenario: Let’s ban trade with other countries so that we can keep all of our jobs here. How poor would we suddenly become? We would all be working, but we would have precious little to buy with our money.

    • #14
  15. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    I don’t remember the exact numbers, but prior to NAFTA, our tariffs on Mexican goods were only about 1%.  The tariffs Mexico imposed on American goods were something like 20%+.  It’s hard to believe that eliminating the tariffs caused a major market disruption when we were only adding 1% onto Mexican goods before NAFTA.  And every country – yes, even China – is losing manufacturing jobs to automation.

    • #15
  16. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    I’ll pick up the conversation “Why Free Trade Is Bad” in a member feed thread.

    The details of the TPP only being available to some parties and not the general public violates Conservative principles.  TPP is a big deal; it will be consequential.  It is unsuitable for matters of such general consequence to be hidden from the public, since there is no circumstance to warrant rapid action.  If it is so great, let us see and have a conversation about it.  Currently the conversation is limited because the precise details are unknown outside of a year-old Wikileaks version of the agreement.

    I’ll craft some lengthier arguments and try to convince the Ricochetti that Free Trade is actually harmful, or at least that it has significant drawbacks, which do not outweigh its benefits.

    Protectionism was a Republican plank for many decades, and for very good reason.

    • #16
  17. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    The costs of free trade to certain individuals and businesses are real and identifiable.

    But the costs of protectionism are just as real, only not as easily identifiable.

    As Friedman teaches, protection of American business (e.g., steel) saves jobs in the steel industry, but costs jobs in those businesses that must pay more for steel, and so don’t have the profits to expand. At the same time, the costs to consumers is higher. But these negative effects of protection are not as obvious to the average person. The unemployed steelworker knows to blame his lost job on Nafta, but the unemployed furniture factory worker doesn’t know that the reason he doesn’t have a job is because of steel tariffs. Manufacturers who are compelled to pay too much for steel in the US can move their plants to countries where the price of steel is not kept artificially high. So jobs are lost, just not the same jobs, and on top of that consumers pay more for goods, reducing their standard of living, all to support inefficiency in industry.

    • #17
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