Source: Professor Jane Kelsey.
‘With less than two months until the window is likely to close for President Obama to get a deal in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) under his watch, the administration has put a bill before Congress to grant him “fast track” authority’, according to Professor Jane Kelsey who monitors the negotiations.
The controversial process of Fast Track, euphemistically called Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to vote yes or not to a final text and it time limits the debate to prevent filibustering.
According to Professor Kelsey a number of governments at the TPPA table have recently said they won’t reach a final deal unless Obama has Fast Track, including New Zealand.
‘Doing something this week was really do or die for the President, even though he doesn’t have the votes to get the bill through, especially in the House of Representatives’, Kelsey said.
The 110-page Bill is a generalised wish list of what the US wants from the TPPA, while protecting its domestic interests. Although the content has been heavily negotiated before being introduced, the negotiating objectives can be ignored.
‘What’s most significant, and the reason there will be a dog-fight, is Section 4 that says what powers Congress is giving up. It is little changed from an earlier Fast Track law that sank last year’, Kelsey said.
There were no House Democrats willing to co-sponsor the Bill. Powerful ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee Sander Levin described the negotiating objectives as ‘obsolete or woefully inadequate’ while putting ‘Congress in the back seat’.
Ironically, Obama is relying heavily on support from Republicans, but there is a substantial bloc of conservative Republicans who consider Obama to be an ‘imperial president’ and are loathe to grant him any more executive power through Fast Track. Republican leaders have said he would need 50 votes from the Democrats. The latest counts from Washington analysts such as Politico put him well short.
The New York Times predicts it will be one of the toughest legislative battles of Obama’s last 19 months in office.
US consumer group Public Citizen says there is no guarantee the Bill will even get to a vote, and might be withdrawn rather than fail. The three major attempts to get Fast Track in the past 25 years saw one pass by 27 votes in 1991 and another passed by 2 votes; the third failed.
Tabling the Bill now is meant to have a demonstration effect, ahead of the make or break ministerial meeting scheduled for late May. Obama hopes it will give the talks new momentum by convincing the eleven other countries to ignore the evidence and believe he can get it passed.
‘Let’s hope for New Zealand’s sake that Trade Minister Groser and Prime Minister Key actually stick by their statements and refuse to make any political trade-offs they know Congress can pick apart’, Kelsey said.