By Peter Fricke
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions says he’s concerned that Congress might blindly relinquish its authority over free-trade agreements, leaving the American people with little say on future deals.
Specifically, Sessions is critical of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, also known as “fast-tracking,” which would enable the president to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no opportunity for amendments. (RELATED: TPP Fast-Tracking is Designed to Hide a Bad Deal From Americans)
“Congress has the responsibility to ensure that any international trade agreement entered into by the United States must serve the national interest, not merely the interests of those crafting the proposal in secret,” Sessions said Monday in a press release.
TPA would apply to all free-trade agreements, but its immediate purpose is to ease passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a draft agreement among 12 Pacific countries—including the U.S., Japan, and Australia—that calls for eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers, as well as cooperating to create legal and regulatory coherence that would make trade more efficient.
Critics of the deal, including Sessions and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, complain that President Obama has refused to make details of the agreement public, giving rise to concerns that the TPP would encourage outsourcing of American jobs to countries with lower labor standards.
“History suggests that trade deals set into motion under the 6-year life of TPA could exacerbate our trade imbalance, acting as an impediment to both GDP and wage growth,” Sessions asserts. In support of that claim, Sessions cites research by labor economist Clyde Prestowitz, who attributes 60 percent of the 5.7 million American manufacturing jobs lost over the last decade to import-driven trade imbalances.
At a minimum, Sessions claims, “TPA eliminates Congress’ ability to amend or debate trade implementing legislation and guarantees an up-or-down vote on a far-reaching international agreement before that agreement has received any public review.” (RELATED: Trade Bill Puts Boehner and Pelosi Between Barack and Their Parties)
Under TPA, he explains, the president would be able to classify or redact portions of the deals submitted to Congress, making it difficult for lawmakers to seek legislative redress in the event that they have concerns about the desirability — or even the legality — of a trade agreement.
Moreover, “if Congress does not affirmatively refuse to reauthorize TPA at the end of the defined authorization (2018), the authority is automatically renewed for an additional three years so long as the President requests the extension.”
Sessions also expresses unease about a summary of the TPP put out by the U.S. Trade Representative, which states that the deal is a “living agreement.” According to Sessions, this provision “means that participating nations could both add countries to the TPP without Congress’ approval (like China), and could also change any of the terms of the agreement.”
Without Congressional input, for example, the president could unilaterally insert language into the TPP “to facilitate the expanded movement of foreign workers into the U.S.—including visitor visas that are used as worker visas.”
Obama brushed off such concerns during an address to the progressive group Organizing for Action last week, saying the deal has “strong provisions for workers, strong provisions for the environment … so when people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” (RELATED: Obama Hammers Dems for Opposing Free Trade)
Sessions, however, insists that Congress should have the power to make that determination, rather than having to take the president’s word that the TPP is a good deal for the American people.
“If we want an international trade deal that advances the interests of our own people,” he concludes, “then perhaps we don’t need a ‘fast-track’ but a regular track: where the President sends us any proposal he deems worthy and we review it on its own merits.”
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