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WSJ Editorial: A Lift for Free Trade

April 17, 2015

By The Editorial Board
April 16, 2015

The big news Thursday was that Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee had reached a deal to produce a compromise bill that would give President Obama the ability to negotiate free-trade agreements with the rest of the world. The deeper news, in our view, is that there are still Members of Congress fighting free trades progress, even as the clouds darken over the global economy. Consider:

U.S. manufacturing slowed for the fifth straight month in March amid sluggish growth in the rest of the world economy. In January the International Monetary Fund reduced its 2015 global growth forecast to 3.5% from 3.8%. Next year the fund expects only a 3.7% expansion worldwide, down from an earlier forecast of 4%. On the heels of the Great Recession, what this malaise translates into is hardship for hundreds of millions the world over, not least in the United States.

The overdue trade bill gives the President trade promotion authority (TPA) that guarantees an up-or-down vote in Congress without amendments. It emerged from hard negotiations between Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah and the committees ranking Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. The bill is also supported by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

At the center of the compromise lies what has become one of the political verities of our timesdistrust of President Obama.

Some Congressional conservatives resist giving this President too much authority over pretty much anything, including free trade, normally a consensus GOP goal. On the Democratic left the opposition includes an array of unions, environmentalists and anti-business activists. Oh, and the man presumed to be the Democrats next Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, is in the opposition.

Senators Hatch and Wyden bent beyond over backwards to mollify these factions, mainly with a provision that says Congress can override fast-track authority if either chamber votes a resolution that disapproves of the agreement the President has negotiated. That is a large concession.

These compromises were made because so much is riding on two proposed U.S. trade agreements, one with the European Union and one with 11 Pacific Rim countries.

If Congress can get the bill completed before its May recess, there is reason to believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be agreed upon this spring. The countries whod be party to that agreement make up 40% of the worlds economy.

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