President Obama hoped the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would be a signal to the entire Asia-Pacific region that the United States is committed to maintaining peace and security, and that the pivot wasn’t just about an increased military presence. There’s just one problem: Members of his own party and administration, notably including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, aren’t too keen on the TPP.In fact, Reid and Company are close to scuppering the TPP entirely:
Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said he opposed legislation known as Trade Promotion Authority, which sets a swift timeline for trade bills and prevents amendments that would slow them down or modify their contents.“I’m against fast track,” Mr Reid told reporters, less than a day after Mr Obama had called for TPA in his State of the Union speech. “Everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now,” he added.
The Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast track,” is a very sensitive issue. It essentially asks Congress to give up the power to amend trade treaties or to adopt them with reservations. Fast track is an essential part of the TPP because other countries won’t agree to a trade deal if Congress reneges on what U.S. trade negotiators approve. Shifting this authority to the Executive Branch would empower the trade negotiators to make deals in which other countries in the partnership would feel confident.Naturally, Congress doesn’t want to give up this particular power, and it doesn’t want to see the lobbyists pick up stakes on Capitol Hill and decamp to the White House. Senator Reid has been very helpful to the White House in a number of other areas (like putting a halt on new Iran sanctions), but on this he doesn’t seem likely to toe the line.Failure on the TPP could send Asia a signal that Washington is not as committed to the pivot as it has claimed to be.