Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the union, so it’s fitting that our two senators played key roles last week to keep two crucial issues alive: the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.
The White House wants Congress to grant it trade promotion authority, which would allow the president to “fast-track” talks to seal an Asia-Pacific trade deal. The nations in the partnership comprise about 40 percent of the global economy.
The bargaining with 11 other nations is complex and delicate, so it’s important that the United States have a single negotiator. It would be impractical for every treaty item to be the subject of amendments before Congress cast a vote. Fast-track authority is more nimble and would provide certainty for our trading partners.
Congress would still get an up or down on the final TPP treaty. And contrary to critics’ claims, members of Congress would have plenty of time to study the treaty before casting that vote. Under trade authority legislation being debated in the Senate, the trade deal would be made public 60 days before the president signs it. In addition, there’s a waiting period before Congress acts.
President Barack Obama was uncharacteristically aggressive in lobbying the Senate last week during a procedural vote, according to the Washington Post. Democrats are largely against the legislation. Obama called Sen. Maria Cantwell, urging her support. She and Sen. Patty Murray worked to extract a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate would take a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank if they could bring along enough Democrats to keep fast-track alive. Republicans also said they would allow Cantwell to attach Ex-Im reauthorization to must-pass legislation this summer, if needed.
The final Senate vote was 62-38, with 60 votes needed to cross the procedural hurdle. Thirteen Democrats voted yes. Five Republicans voted no. Breathing a sigh of relief were executives from Boeing, who are lobbying hard for the trade deal and the Ex-Im Bank.
Cantwell and Murray deserve credit for bucking their party on the trade deal and for applying leverage on behalf of the Ex-Im Bank. The bank’s charter will expire June 30 if Congress fails to act. Its fate is largely in the hands of the House of Representatives, where tea-party Republicans have unfairly labeled the bank “corporate welfare.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers would be doing the state a great service if she would stand up to Ex-Im opponents in her party.
The bank, which used to be uncontroversial, hasn’t added a penny to the deficit. In fact, it produced a $675 million surplus for the U.S. Treasury last year. It supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state, not all at Boeing. A total of 233 Washington companies have benefited since 2007.
Our exporters need broad access to foreign markets. That’s what the TPP and the Ex-Im Bank would help provide. Our congressional delegation should be united in support of global trade.