The Obama Administration’s Trade Reorganization Scheme

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 17, 2012

There is less to it than meets the eye, as Philip Levy points out. And note the following:

To avoid lengthy delays with his latest reform, the president is seeking a version of “fast track” authority from Congress to conduct the reorganization. This request comes just months after refusing to seek new “fast track” authority to pursue actual trade liberalization. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to attach such authority (Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA) to the September trade package, opponents argued that the issue was too complicated and needed a more thorough rethink. Yet, years after TPA lapsed, no rethink or request has been forthcoming from the White House. TPA not only paves the way for a trade agreement to move through Congress, it also provides crucial signals in the negotiating stage about whether any given White House trade stance will have Congressional backing.

This choice of agency reorganization over trade negotiating authority may sound hopelessly arcane to any but the most devoted Beltway trade devotee. There are some serious foreign policy implications, however.

If history is any guide, the president will devote limited political capital to pushing trade matters through Congress in the foreseeable future (he devoted none over his first two years). He has just declared that his priority will be a contentious organization chart reshuffle. If this is in lieu of TPA, then the president will have no hope of getting trade agreements through Congress in the near future. If that’s the case, his vaunted Trans-Pacific Partnership will be little more than endless talk. And, if that’s the case, his trumpeted pivot to Asia will have lost its economic pillar.

The president just asked for the wrong fast track. He must hope independent voters don’t notice.

Here’s hoping that they will. More on this issue here.

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