Tag: Fast Track Authority

The Libertarian Podcast: The Fight Over Free Trade


In this week’s episode of The Libertarian podcast from the Hoover Institution, I lead our own Richard Epstein through a discussion of the many controversies birthed by the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Do trade deals put the screws to American workers? Is the quest for fast-track authority another example of presidential overreach? Should the public be worried about the secrecy around the TPP? Does this deal present threats to American sovereignty? All those topics and more will be addressed when you listen to the show below or subscribe to The Libertarian via iTunes.

The Game Theory Argument for Fast-Track Trade Authority


While public debate rages over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the real issue before Congress right now is merely whether or not President Obama should be granted fast-track authority, which allows him to negotiate a treaty on behalf of the United States and then present it to the Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed. As I note in my new piece for Defining Ideas at the Hoover Institution, there’s a very strong game theory rationale for giving the president this ability:

… [F]ast-track is a good solution to a complex two-stage bargaining game. At stage one, the President and his trading partners are well aware of the prospect that the Congress could turn down a trade treaty if it is perceived, no questions asked, to put the United States in a worse position. So Congress will agree to a treaty that is better than the status quo ante for the U.S., but not so one-sided that it will drive our potential trading partners away. Hence, a stage one agreement will leave everyone better off.

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.