Ted Cruz’s Dramatic Trade Policy Conversion Is a Troubling Sign

Trade Promotion Authority—legislation that sets out negotiating objectives and ensures an up-or-down vote on future trade agreements—survived a Senate cloture vote today 60-37 and will likely become law.  The Senate already passed TPA last month as part of a different trade package by a vote of 62-37.  One of the Senators that switched his vote was Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The switch was a pretty big surprise considering that Cruz had been a prominent and vocal defender of TPA just a few weeks ago.  He co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in May praising the bill and noting how important it was to furthering free trade.  He went on record explaining at length how TPA was not only constitutional but represented an appropriate Congressional check on the power of the President.

Here’s what he says to explain his decision to vote against it now:

Since the Senate first voted on TPA, there have been two material changes.

First, WikiLeaks subsequently revealed new troubling information regarding the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, one of the trade deals being negotiated by Obama.

Despite the administration’s public assurances that it was not negotiating on immigration, several chapters of the TiSA draft posted online explicitly contained potential changes in federal immigration law. TPA would cover TiSA, and therefore these changes would presumably be subject to fast-track.

Second, TPA’s progress through the House and Senate appears to have been made possible by secret deals between Republican Leadership and the Democrats.

When TPA first came up for a vote in the Senate, it was blocked by a group of senators, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), both of whom were conditioning their support on the unrelated objective of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

The Ex-Im Bank is a classic example of corporate welfare. It is cronyism at its worst, with U.S. taxpayers guaranteeing billions of dollars in loans for sketchy buyers in foreign nations. Ex-Im is scheduled to wind down on June 30. But powerful lobbyists in Washington want to keep the money flowing.

Enough is enough. I cannot vote for TPA unless McConnell and Boehner both commit publicly to allow the Ex-Im Bank to expire—and stay expired. And, Congress must also pass the Cruz-Sessions amendments to TPA to ensure that no trade agreement can try to back-door changes to our immigration laws. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to vote no.

Senator Cruz is just wrong about TiSA, and he would know that if he asked any trade policy expert.  There is approximately zero chance the TiSA will do anything to liberalize America’s byzantine and protectionist immigration laws.  That’s because even though temporary immigration is a common component of global services negotiations for other countries, the United States never makes any commitments on immigration—for the obvious reason that it is politically toxic to do so. 

On the other hand, there is approximately a 100% chance that TiSA will reduce barriers to trade in services in the United States and around the world.  So, even if you only support free trade as long as no one is allowed to move across national boundaries, you should support TiSA.

More importantly, Ted Cruz himself already rebutted his own concern over secret changes to immigration law.  As he explained in his Wall Street Journal piece in May:

Before anything becomes law, Congress gets the final say. The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress. So TPA makes it clear that Congress—and only Congress—can change U.S. law. If the administration meets all the requirements, Congress will give the agreement an up-or-down vote. But if the administration fails, Congress can hit the brakes, cancel the vote and stop the agreement.

Trade-promotion authority will hold the administration accountable both to Congress and to the American people.  Under TPA, any member of Congress will be able to read the negotiating text. Any member will be able to get a briefing from the U.S. trade representative’s office on the status of the negotiations—at any time. Any member will get to be a part of negotiating rounds. And most important, TPA will require the administration to post the full text of the agreement at least 60 days before completing the deal, so the American people can read it themselves.

Cruz was right.  TPA means there will be no secrecy; no shenanigans.  Support for TPA is not about whether you trust President Obama.  Did Senator Cruz just forget this?

On the second issue, I sympathize with Cruz’s concern that GOP leadership may be overly willing to make a deal to extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank.  But I can’t understand how that could at all justify voting no on a clean TPA bill.  It seems that Cruz is opposing a policy he supports just to send a message to leadership that he’s upset with their lack of principles.

It’s worth noting that Cruz made his latest announcement in an “Exclusive” op-ed at Breitbart.com the morning of the vote.  He manages to fit his decision into two narratives familiar to Breitbart’s readers: GOP leadership can’t be trusted, and Obama wants to secretly open the borders.  Neither of these issues is actually relevant to TPA.

Unfortunately, the debate over TPA has aptly demonstrated the willingness of some Republicans, particularly those running for President, to awkwardly twist trade policy into familiar partisan tropes at the expense of genuine policy debate and progress

Cruz’s new rhetoric may be an indicator that even with TPA in place, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will face a fierce and frustrating debate if it ever comes before Congress.  Will election year politics push “free traders” like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to find excuses to oppose the TPP as well?

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