Support trade pact ‘Fast Track’

In this file photo taken March 2, 2011, a forklift arranges the shipping containers near a port in Shanghai. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

One area where most Republicans and President Obama agree is the promotion of expanded free trade. The administration is negotiating a “Trans Pacific Partnership” with a number of Asian nations (not including China), and has asked Congress to restore a rule that a final agreement cannot be amended afterward by Congress. The House and Senate should give him that authority.

The rule, known as Trade Promotion Authority or “Fast Track,” says Congress can vote to approve or reject trade agreements, but cannot amend them.

The rule, and the negotiation of new agreements lowering barriers to trade, are vehemently opposed by organized labor, with the result that the great majority of Democrats oppose both.

That means the administration needs GOP votes to get the authority it requires to make trade deals.

Unfortunately, there has always been a small but vocal minority in the Republican Party who oppose free trade. Recently, with the support of many tea party activists, it has been growing stronger and making alliance with pro-labor Democrats to oppose Fast Track. Such conservative stalwarts as Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Cal., Dana Rohrabacher, R-Cal. and Walter Jones, R-N.C. are outspoken against the legislation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 17 of the 43 Republican freshmen in the House of Representatives did not sign a letter of support for trade promotion authority. An estimated 50 to 60 GOP House members may vote no when the rule comes up for a vote.

It certainly puts pressure on Democrats to support their president. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said Mr. Obama will need 50 Democratic votes to gain his objective in the House.

Fast Track is expected to go before the Senate next week.

The president needs to keep the pressure on his party for trade promotion authority, recognizing the benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Fast Track needs to pass.