- 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.