- - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the legislation granting “fast track” authority to the president to negotiate a trans-Pacific trade agreement moved toward an initial Senate vote earlier this year, we warily urged Republicans to suck it up and vote for it. No president can negotiate a broad trade agreement without such authority. Anyone who thinks such agreements, properly negotiated and correctly written, aren’t to the benefit of the United States understands neither economics nor history.

That, alas, was then. Since then both the Obama administration and its new partners, the Republican leaders in Congress, have moved with deception and deceit to include lollipops for corporate supporters and hidden bits and pieces of other agendas that have little if anything to do with trade, and which would never be approved by Congress on their own.

Watching what’s going on has been neither edifying nor informative. Both sides have spent most of their time attacking straw men without a public discussion of the importance of trade to economic growth, job creation and choices for consumers. No one has bothered to explain how the bill enhances America’s national security or the nation’s economic interests in Asia.

The Republican leaders’ insistence that the trade agreement (called TPA) creates a framework the president must honor in negotiating an agreement that will come back to the Senate for an up-or-down vote, is disingenuous, because attempts in both parties to offer an authentic and binding framework are briskly rebuffed.

Worse, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republican leaders in the Senate have cut deal after deal to win the votes of reluctant senators. The worst deal so far would probably reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The latest attempt to move the trade agreement through the Senate was obstructed by demands from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington that the Ex-Im Bank be included or they wouldn’t vote for fast track authority. Sen. McConnell, who supports reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, anyway, apparently approved this deal.

Sen. Ted Cruz, who supported TPA the first time, said Monday that “enough is enough.” He no longer supports the trade legislation. He’s still for free trade, but he won’t approve the furtive scheme of the president and Republican leaders to decorate a trade bill to advance unrelated legislation that many senators oppose.

Mr. Cruz is right. The trade bill isn’t the evil that some opponents say it is, but it has become a Christmas tree adorned with pet projects that would never pass on their own. Like the senator, we’re all for a “clean” trade bill, but the president and the Republicans in the Senate have produced a “dirty” trade bill. We can’t manage even two cheers for the monstrosity the Senate now considers.

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