The good news is that Congress finally passed Trade Promotion Authority last week, in what may be the toughest vote our lawmakers have cast so far this year.
The bad news is that TPA was the easy part. The truly hard part comes soon, when President Obama’s administration finishes the negotiation of a major free-trade agreement with 11 other countries.
Then we’ll see a vote that really counts.
The final tally on TPA in the House of Representatives was 219-211. In the Senate, it was 60-38. Those are magic numbers in both chambers: A simple majority in the House requires 218 votes and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate needs 60 senators.
These results mean that the bipartisan coalition behind TPA cannot afford to lose a single vote when Congress considers an actual free-trade pact.
That’s the whole point of TPA: To make it possible for members of Congress to have a responsible debate over a proposed trade agreement and then give it an up-or-down vote. It’s an indispensible procedure. Without it, there will be no trade agreements. With it, trade agreements will receive their proper consideration—though there’s no guarantee of passage.
I want to thank my two senators—Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington—for doing the right thing. They’re among the 13 Democrats in the Senate who supported TPA—a brave baker’s dozen who stood up to their party’s protectionist majority
Trade matters to us in the Pacific Northwest. We’re not only on the border of Canada, our biggest trade partner, but also connected by water to the vast markets of Asia. Boeing builds airplanes near Seattle and Microsoft sells software around the world.
Washington State exports more than $100 billion in goods and services each year, and nearly a million jobs depend on trade. Among the 50 states, ours is the fourth-most dependent on customers in other countries.
Farmers like me have a special need for global markets. My main crop is alfalfa seed, and more than one-third of all the alfalfa seed in the United States go to foreign buyers. One section of my farm, in fact, is devoted to alfalfa seed for Saudi Arabia.
When I’m not raising alfalfa, I’m growing wheat in rotation—and about 80 percent of the wheat produced in Washington ships overseas.
So although Cantwell and Murray offered profiles in courage for breaking with their party, they also voted their state’s interest.
The same can’t be said for Republican senators who voted against TPA. There were five of them, including a couple of presidential candidates: Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
I have to admit, I have liked both of these guys. I’m interested in their candidacies—or at least I was, until they revealed themselves as protectionists.
The case of Cruz is especially galling. His state exports more than $300 billion each year. No state exports more. Some 3 million Texans have trade-related jobs.
In April, he co-authored an op-ed with Rep. Paul Ryan for the Wall Street Journal. “TPA is what U.S. negotiators need to win a fair deal for the American worker,” they wrote. “We strongly urge our colleagues in Congress to vote for trade-promotion authority.”
Two months later, however, Cruz flip-flopped, announcing his opposition to TPA. (Ryan stayed true to his words.)
This is what makes Americans so cynical about our federal government: Politicians who say one thing, but do another.
As much as Cruz may fuel cynicism, though, the experience of TPA should have the opposite effect because the biggest complaint Americans have about their leaders in Washington is that they take the short view, fall into partisan bickering, and fail to get much done.
TPA bucks this trend. It has brought together President Obama and congressional Republicans, encouraging them to set aside their differences and unite for the long-term good of the country.
We’ll see if they can keep it up in the near future, when President Obama submits the Trans-Pacific Partnership to Congress for an up-or-down vote. This proposed free-trade agreement, which will include the United States and 11 other nations, is the reason we just went through a big debate over TPA.
Everybody who just did the right thing will have to do it all over again.
Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed. Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).