Can the GOP Turn The Trade Standoff to Its Advantage?
Policy + Politics

Can the GOP Turn The Trade Standoff to Its Advantage?


With a major trade deal’s future in doubt, a Democratic former Treasury Secretary warns that the current standoff over giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority is a moment of real peril for Congressional Democrats. At the same time, a former Republican Congressman says that the GOP ought to view it as a huge opportunity.

On Friday, the Democrats in the House of Representatives killed a package of linked trade bills that would have combined to give President Obama TPA, which is the ability to bring a trade deal before each house of Congress for an up-or-down vote, with no amendments. They did so not by voting down TPA, which had enough votes to pass without the majority of Democrats, but by withholding votes on Trade Adjustment Assistance – a Democratic priority that provides training and aid to workers who lose their jobs to overseas competition.

Related: Clinton Campaign Bobs and Weaves on Trade Fast Track

If Democrats don’t relent and agree to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in The Washington Post, they will be dooming the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal a decade in the making, to failure. And in the process, they would be doing something similar to their own president.

“The repudiation of the TPP would neuter the U.S. presidency for the next 19 months,” Summers wrote. “It would reinforce global concerns that the vicissitudes of domestic politics are increasingly rendering the United States a less reliable ally…it would signal a lack of U.S. commitment to Asia at a time when China is flexing its muscles.”

Failure here, he said, would be “a catastrophe for U.S. economic leadership.”

On Monday, former U.S. Rep. Mark A. Kennedy (R-MN) wrote in The Hill that Republicans have been presented with a golden opportunity to position their party as pragmatic and pro-trade. Kennedy is now head of George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management.

Related: Pelosi Torpedoes Obama’s Trade Authority Package

The key, he said, is for Republicans to step up and approve Trade Adjustment Assistance, the bill the Democrats shot down on Friday. Many members of the GOP dislike TAA, he conceded, seeing it as wasteful and duplicative.

However, Kennedy writes, “If Republicans weigh all the factors now at stake, there is justification for voting for TAA. Those opposing TAA are already on record as doing so. Republicans would have accepted TAA if there were enough Democratic votes to pass it.

“If only those Republicans who supported TPA voted for TAA, treating it as a conditional precedent for the TPA they seek, TAA would pass and TPA would proceed. Perhaps following the Senate's lead and combining TPA and TAA may be the most palatable path to doing so. Republicans having to provide the lion's share of the votes to pass TAA is not their first choice, but it seems the most likely — perhaps the only realistic path — to advancing the trade agenda so essential to America's economic future and preservation of its global leadership.”

Related: TPA Could Make Trade Deals More Transparent

The upside for the party, in addition to giving the president TPA, Kennedy wrote, is what it would do for the GOP’s image.

“The political pragmatism that this would exhibit — in stark contrast to Democrats being beholden to their progressive fringe — would stand the party well for years to come,” he concluded.

It would be a remarkable piece of political jiu-jitsu if Republicans – who have worn the mantle of the “Party of No” for almost all of President Obama’s presidency – could manage it. But as with many things in Washington, it’s likely easier said than done.

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times