Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) has penned a column for Breitbart explaining his shift from support to opposition on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the “fast track” legislation that would enable the current president and his successor to negotiate trade deals that Congress would then be able to vote up or down, but not amend.
Senator Cruz, a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, still supports free trade and, in principle, sees fast-track as helpful to that end. Nevertheless, he says GOP leadership’s sleight-of-hand has convinced him that, if not amended, the current TPA bill will become a scheme for passing bad legislation having little to do with trade — namely, immigration “reform” and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
In his initial vote in favor of TPA, the senator intimates that he was misled by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who, when pressed on the matter, testily represented to him that there were no side-deals on Ex-Im. Cruz opposes reauthorization of the bank, which is scheduled to expire at the end of this month. He describes Ex-Im as “a classic example of corporate welfare” and cronyism at its worst” — a position Veronique de Rugy has repeatedly and (in my view) compellingly argued here on the Corner. (See archive, here.)
Because a bipartisan group of senators who support Ex-Im — led by Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) and presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) — blocked TPA when it first came up for a vote in the Senate, Cruz suspects a deal was being pushed to obtain their support for TPA in exchange for a vote to reauthorize the bank.
Though McConnell promised him there was no such understanding, Cruz suggests that this flies in the face of what happened in the House. There, several Republicans proposed to Speaker John Boehner that they would support TPA if he agreed not to cut a deal with Democrats to reauthorize Ex-Im. Cruz writes, “Boehner declined. Instead, it appears he made the deal with Democrats, presumably tossing in the Ex-Im Bank and also increasing tax penalties on businesses.” Moreover, Cruz observes, Boehner is punishing conservatives who opposed him, “wrongly stripping Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) of his subcommittee chairmanship, and reportedly threatening to strip other conservatives of their chairmanships as well.”
Add to this the specter of TPA as the fast track to immigration amnesty that President Obama and bipartisan “reform” advocates have been unable to pass through the normal legislative process. Senator Cruz notes that he and Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) were blocked by Republican leadership from votes on amendments they proposed to bar fast-track treatment for any trade deals that attempt to impact U.S. immigration law.
Cruz recalls that he and Senator Sessions were told their fears about the abuse of trade legislation to remake immigration law were “unfounded.” At this point, however, he says he is done with such oral assurances — he wants commitments that are written expressly into the laws:
Enough is enough. I cannot vote for TPA unless McConnell and Boehner both commit publicly to allow the Ex-Im Bank to expire—and stay expired. And, Congress must also pass the Cruz-Sessions amendments to TPA to ensure that no trade agreement can try to back-door changes to our immigration laws. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to vote no.
Cruz further castigates GOP leadership for consistently caving in to Democrats and “disregard[ing] promises made to the conservative grassroots.” The full column is worth reading.
I have argued here against the meritless contention that TPA is unconstitutional. Furthermore, if you think trade agreements are good for the country, the chance of getting good trade agreements without fast-track authority is unlikely. From a strategic standpoint, I continue to believe we are more likely to get bad legislation if Congress can amend these agreements to make them marginally more palatable (but not materially better); a bad deal is more likely to lose in a straight up-or-down vote.
That said, while trade agreements are (or can be) very beneficial, they do not come in a vacuum. Like everything else, the authority for making them in a fast-track mode has to be weighed against other considerations — and trust is a big part of that equation.
If I were convinced, as Senator Cruz appears to be, that TPA — regardless of its legal and policy soundness — had become a smokescreen for slamming through non-trade legislation that would be worse for the country than trade is good for the country, I would not support it either.