Jeb Hensarling: The Conservative Case for Trade Promotion Authority

WSJby Jeb Hensarling

It will ensure access to overseas markets for American companies and products

tradeBy almost every standard, America’s economic recovery following the 2008 recession has been disappointing. In fact, the Commerce Department just released revised estimates showing negative growth in the first quarter of this year. Under President Obama’s leadership, Washington has unleashed an avalanche of anti-growth regulations onto Main Street that impact virtually every sector of our economy. Combined with an anti-growth tax code, this economic agenda has stalled America’s post-recession economic growth and left hard-working taxpayers struggling as a result.

While it’s unlikely there will be any significant change in the status quo for the remaining two years of this administration, there remain a few areas where Republicans and Democrats can agree and can work together.

One of those opportunities is on trade-promotion authority (TPA). Earlier this year, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch and Democratic ranking member Ron Wyden unveiled the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act. This legislation would help the U.S. economy grow and allow American firms to compete in the global marketplace. By establishing congressional objectives that the administration will then use to negotiate trade agreements, this legislation ensures that Congress is in the driver’s seat before any trade agreement receives an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate.

It is no secret that I disagree with our president on practically every issue under the sun and do not trust his administration. President Obama has clearly overstepped his constitutional authority on numerous occasions, and his actions on the international stage thus far have only weakened American influence in the world. It is for this very reason that passage of TPA is so important.

The executive branch has always maintained the authority to negotiate trade agreements. TPA merely sets in place a process to negotiate potential trade deals, while maintaining the constitutional authority of Congress to finalize any such agreement or treaty. Again, TPA is not a trade agreement; it is a trade-negotiation process, nothing more and nothing less. Rather than reducing congressional input into future trade deals, TPA enhances congressional involvement and oversight during negotiations while requiring additional transparency for the public by mandating that any potential agreement must be publicly available for 60 days before Congress can act. In other words, everyone will have a chance to read it before they “vote” on it.

Without a doubt, the economic stakes are high. Some 38 million U.S. jobs — more than one in five — are dependent on trade. Currently, the United States is negotiating trade deals with eleven Asian-Pacific economies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the 28 member nations represented in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — roughly 40 percent of the global economy. Together, these trade deals could increase market access for U.S. businesses and manufactures to nearly 1 billion consumers.

There is a price to be paid for failing to pass TPA. Right now, China is working to expand its economic influence around the world. Unless Congress passes TPA while still protecting its constitutional role in the process, it is almost certain that no trade agreements will be finalized. Thus China will write the trade rules for the 21st century — and these rules will undoubtedly run counter to U.S. interests.

Because trade remains important to economic growth, some conflate TPA with the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im). I do not. TPA is about bringing down trade barriers; Ex-Im is about entrenching them, not to mention providing a form of corporate welfare to the top 50 members of the Fortune 500 companies, and functional foreign aid to the likes of China and Russia.

TPA is a negotiated piece of legislation, the product of a divided government. It is not the bill I would have written if left to my own devices. Still, I believe it is worthy of support, and a strong bipartisan group of senators — including both of my senators from Texas — recently agreed and passed legislation to move the process forward at the end of May. It is my distinct hope that the House will follow in their footsteps to advance this important legislation that can grow our economy and open foreign markets to U.S. goods and services.

— Jeb Hensarling is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He represents the fifth congressional district of Texas.

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