National Security & Defense

Don’t Call It ‘Obamatrade’

Port of Oakland, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Republicans are often charged with opposing good ideas President Obama supports just because he supports them. This is nonsense, but it is beginning to sound a little less ridiculous when it comes to the debate over giving the president trade-promotion authority. Republican House leadership is considering bringing a bill on that issue up for a vote this week, but it could fail because some conservatives oppose it.

They argue that the trade authority would unwisely cede powers to President Obama and advance a secret trade deal without Congress’s getting to subject it to appropriate scrutiny. Neither argument really holds up.

Congress isn’t, as a matter of fact, specifically entrusting President Obama with trade-promotion authority — it is giving the office of the president the power to reach trade deals and present them to Congress for an up-or-down vote over the next six years. The majority of that window, President Obama won’t even be in office.

Calling the procedure ‘Obamatrade,’ as if the question before Congress were a big-government boondoggle rather than a proven method of liberalizing global markets and increasing prosperity, won’t cut it.

Trade-promotion authority (once called “fast track” authority) has been the way the U.S. has negotiated such agreements for decades now. It was the means by which every modern trade deal, including sweeping agreements such as the creation of the World Trade Organization, has been approved. Renewing the president’s trade authority isn’t aggrandizing his power; rather, refusing to pass it would curtail his ability to accomplish an important foreign-policy goal.

If some conservatives wish to reconsider whether trade is a key economic priority for the U.S. and a great boon for the world, they can certainly make their case. But calling the procedure “Obamatrade,” as if the question before Congress were a big-government boondoggle rather than a proven method of liberalizing global markets and increasing prosperity, won’t cut it.

Another line of attack, that the negotiations have been too secretive, also doesn’t add up. We would certainly like more details of the most immediate deal under consideration, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to be public. The Obama administration says it’s doing its best, and many Republicans, such as Representative Paul Ryan, back it up. Still, if Congress would like to tie transparency requirements to trade-promotion authority, that would not be unreasonable.

But the specifics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are beside the point. Trade-promotion authority is not about one specific deal — an even bigger deal than the TPP, one with Europe, is in its early stages, for instance. The details of each deal can be examined when the time comes; Republicans should side with free trade, and a proven method of promoting it. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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