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Trade games

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama’s push for trade promotion authority appeared to be on a fast track to nowhere. Fellow Democrats in the Senate prevented it from clearing a procedural hurdle.

Roughly 24 hours later, however, the bid for TPA had new life. Mr. Obama persuaded key Democrats to back a Republican proposal that put fast track back on the path toward a vote.

The president still needs to secure enough support in the Senate and then the House to get what he’s asking for—and that could be a very tall order.

It’s all a game that Washington cannot stop playing, unfortunately.

As noted here before, fast-track negotiating authority has existed under presidents of both parties. It was created in the mid-1970s and remained in effect for some 20 years; it was renewed again in 2002 and lasted until 2007.

This authority does not give the president carte blanche. Rather, it allows Congress to approve or reject trade agreements, just not amend them.

Mr. Obama wants TPA now because it appears the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement involving a dozen nations—the United States along with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—is within reach.

And that’s precisely why other members of his party oppose TPA. They don’t like free trade generally and TPP in particular.

Whether the trans-Pacific accord is a good deal for the United States is a fine thing to debate. So, give the administration the ability to put a finished document before Congress, and let each side of the argument make their case. Then put it to an up-or-down vote.

But that’s not how the game is played.

More than many places in this country, the Rochester region has much at stake in this showdown. Billions of dollars of products made here are sold abroad each year.

In our view, freer trade is good for this community. But again, that’s not the issue on the table today. The vote at hand is on fast-track negotiating authority—and it should be approved without further delay.

5/15/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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