Why Trade Promotion Bill Is So Hard to Pass Through Congress
Posted on June 11, 2015
(This originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal's Think Tank)
The Drudge Report calls it Obamatrade.
That’s the right-leaning website’s way to attack and belittle congressional efforts to give President Barack Obama Fast Track trade authority.
Passing trade legislation is always controversial. One man’s job-creating trade agreement spells the end of another man’s job.
Mr. Obama waited until the last two years of his presidency to push for fast track, when he didn’t have to run again in the face of angry union opposition. It helped that the Republicans had seized the reins of power in the Senate and are largely sympathetic to the arguments of free traders.
Trade is much more complex than broadly understood. Every country with which we trade has laws designed to help domestic manufacturers. There are tax provisions and subsidies and favorable regulatory breaks and no-interest loans and a list of other things that foreign governments do to help their workers. We do some of that stuff ourselves.
Making sense of these complex laws to help constituents and domestic industries in the face of international competition is the job of Congress. Some purists might want Congress to butt out, to let the invisible hand of the free market to work its will.
But that’s not realistic from either a political standpoint or from a policy standpoint.
At its heart, trade policy is a political matter and the politicians have to have the ability to represent their constituents. So, if a member of the House needs a provision to buffer the impact of lower tariffs for Vietnamese textiles, so be it. If a senator needs to point to additional tools to protest against illegal dumping of products from overseas, that’s the way it should be.
On trade votes, you really get a chance to see the legislative process work. To the casual observer, this might seem like the usual sausage making. But to those in the middle of the scrum, all of this horse-trading makes the sausage taste better to their constituents.