• Republicans Critical of Pacific Trade Deal
  • October 22, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • This week the prospects for final passage of President Obama's trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim nations-- known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)-- took a hit when Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced that she opposed the deal. This is a 180 for the former Secretary of State who once called the deal the "gold standard" for trade deals.

    While Clinton's announcement isn't good news, what is even more troubling for the administration is the growing chorus of Republican Senators who are critical of the deal.

    Seni­or Re­pub­lic­an Senators have long been the loudest cheer­lead­ers for TPP. Indeed, in a re­versal of the usu­al polit­ic­al dy­nam­ic, it was the Republican Senators and Republican House Members that car­ried the pres­id­ent’s re­quest for “fast-track” ne­go­ti­at­ing au­thor­ity earli­er this year and saved him from an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat at the hands of his own party. This week, however, many of those same Re­pub­lic­ans were criticizing the very deal that they gave Obama the power to strike, rais­ing con­cerns that ne­go­ti­at­ors for the ad­min­is­tra­tion had sold out ma­jor U.S. in­dus­tries in a fi­nal rush to fin­ish the agree­ment.

    “While the de­tails are still emer­ging, un­for­tu­nately I am afraid this deal ap­pears to fall woe­fully short,” com­plained Sen. Or­rin Hatch (R-UT), a pro-trade Re­pub­lic­an who, as chair­man of the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee, will be key to passing the agree­ment. Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to Hatch and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans is a pro­vi­sion ex­clud­ing to­bacco com­pan­ies from be­ing able to sue gov­ern­ments over reg­u­la­tions seen as tar­get­ing their in­dustry. An­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), said that change from past trade agree­ments, which was cheered as a vic­tory for pub­lic-health ad­voc­ates, could lead him to vote against the TPP.

    Re­pub­lic­ans also are up­set about the res­ol­u­tion of the fi­nal stick­ing point in the ne­go­ti­ations: a shortened peri­od for top drug com­pan­ies to keep their data secret on ad­vanced medi­cines known as bio­lo­gics. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell (R-KY), who guided to pas­sage the le­gis­la­tion grant­ing Obama’s ex­ped­ited ne­go­ti­at­ing au­thor­ity, said the agree­ment was “po­ten­tially one of the most sig­ni­fic­ant trade deals in history” but would face “in­tense scru­tiny” in Con­gress. “We are com­mit­ted to open­ing trade in a way that be­ne­fits Amer­ic­an man­u­fac­tur­ers, farm­ers, and in­nov­at­ors,” he said in a state­ment. “But ser­i­ous con­cerns have been raised on a num­ber of key is­sues.”

    Despite the growing Republican criticism, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion remains con­fid­ent that Con­gress will ul­ti­mately rat­i­fy TPP. They poin­ted out that the lengthy ac­cord hadn’t even been prin­ted yet and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would be spend­ing months go­ing over it with law­makers point by point. And they de­b­uted a talk­ing point de­signed ex­pli­citly for mem­bers of Con­gress to take home to their con­stitu­ents: By elim­in­at­ing tar­iffs on U.S. ex­ports to the Pa­cific, the deal con­tains some “18,000 tax cuts” for Amer­ic­an busi­nesses. “It’s an agree­ment that puts Amer­ic­an work­ers first and will help middle-class fam­il­ies get ahead,” Obama said in a state­ment.

    Obama will need Republican support to make this happen because Demo­crats in Con­gress over­whelm­ingly op­posed Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity when it passed in June, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has little hope of per­suad­ing most of the party on the sub­stance of the deal.

    Organized labor and environmentalists, who opposed fast-track, are once again lining up to oppose final passage of TPP.

    Obama and his team are now two-thirds of the way through a pro­cess that began early in his pres­id­ency and could res­ult in a leg­acy-de­fin­ing trade agree­ment. The first came with the pas­sage of Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity over Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion, and the second came this week with the final agree­ment an­nounced in At­lanta. Yet with once-friendly Re­pub­lic­ans now waver­ing, the months-long fi­nal leg could be­come the toughest of all.