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Trade War: U.S. Chamber and AFL-CIO Square Off On TPA Renewal

Geographically the headquarters of U.S. Chamber and the AFL-CIO are only a block apart. But philosophically on trade policy they’re light years apart.

Although friends, the U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka squared off on opposite sides at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on TPA renewal and forging ahead with trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

For Donohue, not renewing TPA and passing trade agreements like TPP “is the equivalent of going out and resigning from the rest of the world.” But for Trumka, TPA–he calls it, “fast track”–is an “outdated and undemocratic process.”

One particular person interested in this conversation on Capitol Hill happens to also work near both men. But President Obama would have to read the coverage later. He was in Fairfax, Virginia for an interview about TPA and trade to be aired later on MSNBC.

Trumka had three main arguments.

First, he complained that the TPP cake has already been baked and TPA won’t give Congress much of a say:

The idea that fast track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is a fiction – the agreement has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete. Congress cannot set meaningful negotiating objectives in a fast track bill if the administration has already negotiated most of the key provisions.

But that’s just not the case, Donohue said:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would open the Asia-Pacific dynamic markets to American goods and services. It is critical that we do so because nations across the Pacific are clinching their own trade agreements that exclude the United States, denying American exporters access to these very important markets.

TPA gives the United States a strong hand in writing the rules for trade for this important region. It makes us an active player, not a bystander stuck on the outside looking in.

TPP would affirm and deepen America’s ties to Asia at a time when there is a perception that we’re pulling back.

Second, Trumka charged that TPA is undemocratic:

[TPA] cedes important and long-lasting decisions about our economy to a few negotiators in a small room in the middle of the night. This is undemocratic. It’s wrong.

The truth is because Congress sets the terms for negotiation and must vote a trade agreement up or down it’s inherently democratic. Negotiators don’t impose anything on Congress.

Donohue address this point:

TPA is based on the common sense notion that Congress and the White House must work together on trade agreements. TPA is how Congress sets priorities and holds the administration accountable in trade negotiations.

A few people have claimed that this is a presidential power grab. I may be uniquely qualified to comment on this. After all, the Chamber has not been shy about criticizing some actions of the administration when we see overreach. But TPA isn’t about Congress ceding power to the president. On the contrary, TPA strengthens the voice of the Congress on trade.

Without TPA, the administration can pursue its priorities at the negotiating table and consult with Congress only when and if it chooses. TPA lets Congress set negotiation goals and sets forth detailed requirements for consultation between the trade negotiators and the Congress.

What TPA does is prevent Congress from acting like 538 additional trade negotiators, as Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) described it. That would be no way to forge a 21st Century trade agreement.

Third, Trumka argued that TPA lacks accountability. “Congress should have the final say on whether negotiating objectives have been met.,” Trumka told the committee.

But that’s what TPA does. From Donohue’s testimony:

TPA allows Congress to show leadership on trade policy by doing three important things: (1) It allows Congress to set negotiating objectives for new trade pacts; (2) it requires the executive branch to consult extensively with Congress during negotiations; and (3) it gives Congress the final say on any trade agreement in the form of an up-or-down vote. The result is a true partnership stretching the length of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The TPA process has produced beneficial trade agreements, Donohue noted:

[Previous] trade agreements boosted U.S. output by more than $300 billion and in turn supports an estimated 5.4 million U.S. jobs….

The United States has a trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners as a group. This includes sizeable trade surpluses in manufactured goods, services, and agricultural products.

American companies have greater access to international markets and are creating jobs. At the same time, American consumers have access to a wider array of goods and services. Renewing TPA will lead to more beneficial trade agreement like TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

As Donohue summed up his testimony, “To create the jobs, growth, and prosperity our children need, we need to set the agenda. Otherwise, our workers and businesses will miss out on huge opportunities.”

TELL CONGRESS TO PASS TPA.

Meet Sean Hackbarth  @seanhackbarth Follow @uschamber