Trust, or the lack thereof, has been a key issue for Republicans talking about the Obama presidency for years.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, has repeatedly said that the Obama administration cannot be trusted on a wide range of issues, such as immigration reform and National Security Agency surveillance. Another critic of the administration, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), has frequently hit the administration with the accusation that it cannot be trusted. “"Here's the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don't trust the president to enforce the law,” he said last year in a discussion about immigration reform.
But apparently there is one thing that Cruz and Ryan do trust the president to do: negotiate a trade deal.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal this morning, the two conservatives called on their fellow lawmakers to pass a bill giving the president trade promotion authority, which would allow the Congress only an up-or-down vote on international trade deals negotiated with overseas trading partners.
The issue at hand is, most prominently, the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal being worked out between the U.S. and nearly 20 Pacific nations to reduce barriers to trade. The administration is also in negotiations over a trade deal with European nations.
“These two agreements alone would mean greater access to a billion customers for American manufacturers, farmers and ranchers,” Cruz and Ryan wrote. “But before the U.S. can complete the agreements, Congress needs to strengthen the country’s bargaining position by establishing trade-promotion authority, also known as TPA, which is an arrangement between Congress and the president for negotiating and considering trade agreements. In short, TPA is what U.S. negotiators need to win a fair deal for the American worker.”
The op-ed is plainly an effort to head off objections among many Republicans, primarily in the House of Representatives, to giving the president the power to bring a completed trade deal to Congress for a vote without giving lawmakers a chance to amend it. That is what the other countries participating in the agreement are demanding. They are not interested in hashing out a deal with the administration only to see it pulled apart again by lawmakers seeking to insert special protections and benefits for favored parties.
Granting the president TPA implies a level of trust in him to negotiate a good deal for the country.
Cruz and Paul, for their part, try to spin the current trade agreements as being conducted under Congressional direction. “Congress lays out three basic requirements for the administration. First, it must pursue nearly 150 specific negotiating objectives, like beefing up protections for U.S. intellectual property or eliminating kickbacks for government-owned firms. Second, the administration must consult regularly with Congress and meet high transparency standards. And third, before anything becomes law, Congress gets the final say.”
In truth, though, very few people really know what’s in the trade deal. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), usually an administration ally, has blasted the opaque process of deal-making. “It’s telling when Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals,” he said.
Cruz and Paul are working to convince their fellow Republicans to trust the administration on trade talks because Democrats, including Brown and many others, don’t. The Democratic Party has increasingly turned against the TPP for a variety of reasons, including concerns about labor standards and the environment. There are enough Democrats in support of a deal to get it through the Senate, but the deal’s fate is much less clear in the House.
For TPA to pass without strong Democratic support in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) needs to some of the hard-right in his own conference to back it. Boehner has been stymied by members of his own caucus in the past, and he risks losing them again over the idea of trusting the president to negotiate a trade deal. That is the most likely cause behind an unlikely call by two of the president’s most implacable political opponents to just trust him this one time.
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