Amid an economic stimulus package hangover, the House of Representatives remains unable to reach consensus on a bill that would allow the Bush administration to negotiate essential trade agreements around the world. This is unfortunate. While lawmakers have readily agreed on corporate pork, they refuse to grant President Bush the authority he sorely needs to pursue trade agreements and assume a global leadership role.
Congress’ inertia forced a U.S. delegation to travel to Qatar for a meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) members without trade promotion authority (TPA). Afterwards, Congress appeared to be modestly shamed and seemingly began making headway toward granting the president such authority. TPA would allow White House officials to negotiate trade agreements by permitting Congress to either approve or reject a trade deal, but not to change an already agreed-upon pact. Many countries won’t negotiate with the United States if Congress hasn’t given an administration such authority. Unfortunately, lawmakers’ shame didn’t last long, because late last week, negotiations on the issue broke down again.
According to an article published last Friday in this newspaper, the impasse in the House could delay a floor vote on TPA until after Thanksgiving derailing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s goal of ensuring that the House votes on the issue this week. While some Democrats’ labor and environmental concerns appear to be one source of delay, the article reported that House leaders have been unable to garner the necessary support for the bill from Republicans in the narrowly divided chamber. About two dozen Democrats are believed to support the legislation as written. One House staffer said in a telephone interview that once a vote is scheduled, support for the bill from currently undecided lawmakers may be easier to find. “They don’t want to put a huge bull’s-eye on their foreheads for labor unions to target if there’s no vote scheduled,” the staffer said.
Still, the partisan brinkmanship regarding the trade authority bill is disappointing, given the importance of commerce to America’s economic well-being. While presenting some challenges in the short run, trade with other countries has fueled America’s economic dynamism and gives U.S. consumers access to competitively priced goods. So, perhaps members of Congress should take a break from stimulating the industries in their districts with pork and other such largesse and instead empower the country by allowing America to trade globally. Today, the cost of partisan stonewalling is greater than ever.