Neither Obamacare Nor IslamoBomb


Opponents of granting Obama Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership have made comparisons to two other situations, Obamacare and the Iranian Nuclear Talks.  Per Obamacare, they argue, the agreement would be approved at the last minute, with minimal understanding of what is in it, and with minimal debate.  Per the Iranian Nuclear Talks, opponents want to know, if we trust the administration to conduct these talks, and only require a majority vote, then why don’t we trust them to treat with Iran?

Each, I think, is based on a misunderstanding both of the powers under debate, and the consequences of the agreements being reached, as well as the route we took to get here.

The comparison with Obamacare is more easily dismissed.  Unfortunately, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whom I like a great deal, fueled this argument with language that was similar to, or could be portrayed as similar to, Nancy Pelosi’s famous declaration about Obamacare that, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.”  In fact, the TPA’s design militates against a repeat of that debacle.

Here’s the process, as described by Scott Lincicome in The Federalist:

Finally, unlike the oft-analogized Obamacare legislation, the actual text of any final TPP deal will be required by law to be publicly available (online) for months—yes,months—before Congress votes on it. As you can see from the table below (source), under TPA the president must make the entire text of any trade agreement, including TPP, available to the public for 60 days before he can even sign it.Once it’s signed, Congress will have weeks, maybe months, to scour the deal, hold “mock markups” in various committees, and suggest changes to the agreement before the president sends Congress legislation implementing the FTA for a final vote. Also, within 105 days of the FTA’s signing, the U.S. International Trade Commission must issue a report on the deal’s economic impact—again prior those bills being submitted to Congress. And once the bills finally are submitted, Congress will then have up to 90 legislative days (which is like five months in normal human days) to review the bills and hold final votes.

One point that he doesn’t mention is that the TPA’s insistence on an up-or-down vote actually works strongly against the Obamacare comparison.  There’s no question that the take-it-or-leave-it approach on the final vote puts some pressure on to approve.  But it also prevents the kind of last-minute horse-trading that left Obamacare a mess of barely-comprehended internal contraditctions.  Since amendments wouldn’t be allowed, there’s no opportunity for changes in one party of the proposed law to have unexpected consequences, or be in outright conflict with, other parts.

The comparison with the Iran Nuclear Talks is less-easily disposed of.  It, too, is going to be subject to a majority vote, after having been negotiated in secret.  But the differences are vast.  The Iran Talks are essentially about the conditions under which we will remove the economic sanctions on Iran.  In the first place, the Administration realized it held the high cards with Congress as soon as it understood that sanctions, as currently constituted, could simply be serially waived by lying about Iran’s compliance and intentions.  Any changes to that law would require a majority vote, but then would actually require a 2/3 vote to override a veto.

Moreover, the consequences of getting the Iran deal wrong would be swift, irreversible, and catastrophic.  Those of us who don’t trust the administration on Iran – which means most of the country – don’t trust them because there’s basically no way of stopping them from doing that damage, and Obama has shown every evidence of bad faith in pursuit of a deal.  While the text of the TPP-in-process is secret, the administration has made virtually no effort to keep the proceedings secret, leaking capitulation after capitulation in the weird belief that doing so will somehow soften opposition.  The Iran deal-in-process is known to be a bad one, and in any event, much of what the administration wants to do could be done without Congressional approval prior to Corker-Menendez.

The jury on TPP is still out, and the process doesn’t require any “trust” of the administration or the final product.  Nor does it put the Congress in a position of voting on a piece of legislation that still has red-pen markup on it.  Depending on the provisions, one could certainly oppose TPP when it comes out without being protectionist.  But opposing the TPA on the basis of either of these analogies doesn’t hold water.

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