The House is expected to vote soon on “trade promotion authority” (TPA), which commits Congress to holding an up-or-down vote on trade agreements over the next six years, including a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is near completion. The main argument for TPA is that free-trade agreements are generally good for the country, and other countries won’t make them if everything they negotiate is up for grabs in Congress. The central argument being made right now against TPA, on the left and the right, is that passing it would amount to acceding to a TPP that we don’t know enough about and could be terrible.
The problem with that argument is that Congress will have a complete deal on hand by the time it is voting up or down on TPP. If it’s a bad deal, Congress can vote no.
It is, of course, not unheard of for Congress to vote yes on bad legislation. But why do TPA/TPP opponents think they have a better shot on the TPA vote than on a future TPP vote? There’s history: Trade agreements have generally passed by higher margins than TPA has. My working theory to explain that pattern has always been that the more concrete and less speculative the weighing of costs and benefits gets, the better trade deals look. Everything TPA opponents are saying and doing suggests to me that they implicitly believe the same thing: It will be easier to defeat the rumor of a trade deal than an actual one.