The debate over whether Congress should grant President Obama fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements has now been reduced down to a false choice between free trade and protectionism.
Matt Lewis of The Daily Beast writes, “it’s absurd for conservatives to oppose a free-trade deal just because the White House wants it.” Lewis argues that the only legitimate objection to fast track authority springs from genuine concerns about the cost of free trade to domestic workers. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made the same case: “If the name Obama was nowhere to be seen in this, it would be fine for most people. We believe in free trade. That is one of our party’s primary principles.”
It is dishonest for Ryan and others to paint a stark – and false – dichotomy on fast track authority. In fact, there are several good reasons for those of us who are ardently pro-free trade to oppose fast track authority.
The Crap Sandwich. Every few months, Republicans cave to Democrats while claiming to their constituency that they had no choice. Republicans fully funded both Obamacare and President Obama’s executive amnesty on the grounds that an omnibus package including Department of Homeland Security funding would die, endangering the nation, if they didn’t give Obama what he wanted. Omnibus packages are the enemy of good policy.
Yet that’s precisely what fast track authority incentivizes. Without fast track authority, as I wrote earlier this week, the president would have to negotiate with foreign nations while keeping Congress constantly updated. Congress’ input would be consistent and effective, since even a single amendment could kill a bill. Any trade agreement would have to be truly bipartisan in today’s political world.
But fast track authority allows the president to negotiate a crap sandwich: an agreement with certain good provisions and some bad provisions. Republicans, pushing the free trade agenda, then sign off on the crap sandwich.
Is Obama Really Pushing Free Trade? Many free trade advocates have questioned why the negotiations with foreign nations ought to be secret. Inherent in that question is a deep distrust of President Obama – a distrust he has certainly earned with his commentary about the free trade agreements themselves. Just weeks ago, Obama said this would be “the most progressive trade bill in history. It will have the kinds of labor and environmental and human rights protections that have been absent in previous agreements.”
We have no idea what those “progressive” priorities look like in practice. If Obama places environmental restrictions, for example, on a free trade agreement, that will raise prices rather than dropping them. Pure free trade agreements are wonderful. President Obama, however, is not interested in negotiating a pure free trade agreement. He has other priorities.
Climate Change. Speaking with American Public Media’s Marketplace, Obama said, “If we want to solve something like climate change, which is one of my highest priorities, then I’ve got to be able to get into places like Malaysia, and say to them, this is in your interest.” He continued:
What leverage do I have to get them to stop deforestation? Well part of the leverage is, if I’m in a trade relationship with them, that allows me to raise standards, now they have to start thinking about how quick they’re chopping down their forests and what kinds of standards they need to apply to environmental conservation.
This, to put it mildly, should not be a priority in a free trade agreement. Placing America’s international stance on climate change on the back of a free trade agreement is not a free trade approach, but a trade restricting approach.
Immigration. According to Alex Swoyer, Wikileaks has revealed a “secret immigration chapter” in the agreements that would allow Obama to “unilaterally alter current US immigration law.” The Trade in Services Act (TiSA) would dramatically restrict the period of immigration processing in order to increase the number of immigrants with work visas. That’s a problem, given that nearly half of all illegal immigrants enter the country legally and simply overstay their visas. Free trade does not require that the United States make it easier for immigrants to dodge the law; a huge percentage of illegal immigrants end up on public assistance.
The Changing Agreement. According to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the TPP contains a “living agreement” provision. That provision would, according to the United States Trade Representative, “enable the updating of the agreement as appropriate to address trade issues that emerge in the future as well as new issues that arise with the expansion of the agreement to include new countries.” Presumably, such changes would not be subject to additional ratification by Congress. If conservatives have watched the mockery leftists routinely make of the Constitution under the “living document” rubric, the reshaping of international trade under the same guise should frighten them.
This week, Ryan made an epic boo-boo while discussing fast track authority: he said in Rules Committee testimony that the free trade agreements would be “declassified and made public once it’s agreed to.” In other words, we have to pass fast track authority in order to find out what’s in the trade agreement. That’s no position any Republican should ever take. And it’s a position no free trader should simply rubber stamp.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.