Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Which Comes First, TPA or TPP?

The assumption always has been that the Obama administration needs the fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in order to secure conclusive concessions from the other parties in the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations. Senator Baucus did table a TPA bill but promptly packed his bag for Beijing to take up the US ambassador’s office there, leaving no one of significance to push an already unpopular initiative back in Washington. Richard Katz reports as the latest round of ministerial negotiations get under way that the White House is now pushing the line that an acceptable TPP package is necessary to secure TPA—which was supposed to be the prerequisite to a conclusive TPP package. So what gives?

In fact, the alleged new White House line is not as absurd as it seems at first glance. There will surely be some senators, largely but not limited to Democrats, that will find themselves willing to let the negotiated TPA pass but unable to afford not to push an amendment or two on behalf of their respective favored lobbies and key constituencies. They could vote in favor of TPA, then cast a “principled” vote against the TPP in a losing cause. Yielding on a procedural supermajority so that the simple majority on the substance can come into play is a common feature of legislative action in the Senate, no? We most recently saw it with regard to Ted Cruz’s filibuster on lifting the debt ceiling. But try explaining all that to the other negotiating parties and their own sets of lobbies and constituencies and convincing them that it’ll actually work.

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