Col. Alan West, the veteran, stalwart Tea Party conservative and former congressman from Florida, staked out an anti-free trade position earlier today at Breitbart. On many issues, I agree with Col. West, but on trade I cannot. Though additional authority of any kind might seem rather dangerous in the hands of a president who has the tendency to abuse it, the fact is that fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals is nothing new.
Furthermore, it is necessary. Trade agreements are incredibly complex and require our representatives to have wide discretion. They are also almost always in the best interest of the United States. Not only is trade good for our economy, but it is essential to our global influence and even our national security. When we back away from free trade in, for example, East Asia, our Chinese rivals are better able to enter and fill the vacuum.
Unlike the many Obama power grabs that are truly unprecedented, and have as their primary purpose the “fundamental transformation” of our constitutional system and our society, fast-track negotiating authority has been granted to other presidents. Even the Republican-controlled Congress of Newt Gingrich granted fast-track authority to then-President Bill Clinton in the mid- and late 1990s to negotiate trade deals on our behalf.
Those who opposed fast-track authority most vociferously were on the left: big labor, the environmental lobby, and the anti-globalization movement. When the anti-trade radicals could not get their way in Congress, they shut down the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999. That was among the Occupy movement’s main inspirations. The Tea Party should not become fellow travelers on the anti-trade path.