If all goes well today, the U.S. House will pass a package of interconnected bills to limit congressional action on any pending trade agreement to an up-or-down vote, with no amendments. The legislation also would provide generous federal “adjustment assistance” to workers who lose jobs because of imports.
House approval would open the door, as President Barack Obama has been urging, to congressional consideration of a series of trade pacts with Asian and European nations that are generally less committed to free trade than the United States. But defeat would kill all of the pending trade deals, setting back the growth of the U.S. economy.
The Senate passed the package last month by a 62-37 vote.
The House vote is expected to be closer than the Senate margin. The political left has gone all out to defeat the package, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Wikileaks has even offered to pay those who expose trade negotiations in progress in hopes of stirring controversy.
Labor union officials oppose the TPA because they know that blocking it will kill the pending trade pacts. They even oppose the legislation for federal aid to workers affected by foreign trade because it excludes public sector workers — as if international trade agreements would have any impact on them.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and most of the Republican leadership have been openly supportive of the president’s call for the TPA.
Not so, though, for many in the president’s own party. The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon that “top Obama administration officials, including Labor Secretary Thomas Perez,” had gone to the Capitol to “address skeptical Democrats” in an effort to gain their support for the package.
And it will take some Democratic votes to pass it, as Mr. Boehner has repeatedly warned over the past several months. So the TPA vote will be a test of President Obama’s ability to appeal to members of his party to support the national interest over parochial opposition and advance international trade.
Opponents of the pending trade pacts have made much of the fact that they are “secret.”
But this charge, frequently made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is only half true. The only one of the three major pending trade agreements that has reached a final text is the Trans Pacific Partnership. And the TPP text would be made public 60 days before Congress takes an up-or-down vote.
The history of the past 70 years is that while the United States has had to adjust to major challenges from other countries, such as Japanese and German automakers, it has also prospered from increasingly open trade and from its ability to adapt to new opportunities.
The Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending trade pacts will open new markets to American ingenuity and capital.
It would be a blow to the nation if these benefits are lost because the House rejects the TPA.