Politics

Sneaky Trade Pact Vote Possible

Effort afoot to insulate pols from tough vote by pushing TPP to 2016 lame duck session

Pressure appears to be building to push back a vote on President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal until after the 2016 election, when members of Congress no longer will have to deal with the heat of a campaign — and won’t be as accountable for their vote.

Obama last week formally notified Congress he intends to sign the trade deal after a 90-day waiting period expires. The president then would have another 90 days to submit the pact to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

A pair of congressional aides who spoke to LifeZette on condition of anonymity said some opponents believe supporters of the trade deal will try to arrange a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress that will follow the 2016 election. With “yes” votes from lawmakers who are leaving Congress, supporters may be able to muscle approval through both chambers, despite skepticism from voters.

“If this is voted on after the election, then it becomes pure politics,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, which has expressed concerns about the trade deal’s potential impact on immigration.

Some lawmakers and other opponents of the deal are demanding a vote before the election.

“TPP is an absolute disaster, and in this case the best thing Congress can do to protect American jobs is to refuse to take it up,” Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said in an email to LifeZette. “The worst case scenario would be for Congress to take it up during a lame duck session when many members will not be held accountable for how they vote.”

“The vote should be held under regular Senate and Constitutional order, and it should be held when voters can hold their lawmakers accountable,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions.

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After last week’s release of the text of the massive trade document, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., urged his colleagues to remove the fast-track authority it granted Obama in June. That would allow Congress to amend the trade pact and give senators the ability to filibuster it.

“The vote should be held under regular Senate and Constitutional order, and it should be held when voters can hold their lawmakers accountable — not during an unaccountable lame duck session,” he said in the statement.

Negotiated in secret, the Trans-Pacific Partnership runs thousands of pages and contains dozens of side agreements between various member nations. It would bind about 40 percent of the world’s economy and a third of global trade.

Supporters argue it will benefit the United States by giving American companies freer access to 11 other countries and allow Western interests — and not China — to control the rules of international commerce. But the agreement never has been popular among a public soured by the negative effects of past trade deals. Most Democratic members of Congress and a handful of conservative Republican lawmakers opposed fast-track authority in June.

Jenks said in an interview that the Trade Promotion Authority bill clearly spells out the timetable. Under that schedule, a vote should take place in about six months.

“It is unclear under the TPA what actually happens if Congress doesn’t do do anything,” she said.

Even if Congress votes “no,” lawmakers always could revisit that issue after the election.

“Congress has never voted down a trade agreement once fast-track authority had been granted,” Jenks said.

There is precedent for approving trade pacts in lame-duck sessions.

There is precedent for approving trade pacts in lame-duck sessions. Congress did it that way with the Trade Act of 1974 and again 20 years later approving creation of the World Trade Organization.

The Obama administration publicly has committed to an earlier vote, as well.

“There is no need for Congress to delay action on TPP until the end of next year,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters last month. “I don’t know why we would wait more than a year to enjoy the benefits.”

There is another reason why Obama may want to push Congress for an earlier vote on a legacy-burnishing achievement. His successor may be eager to tear it up and start over. Republican Donald Trump and Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have blasted the agreement. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, once a supporter, has switched her position.

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