Opponents of trade agreements have spun up all kinds of fallacies in an attempt to stop bipartisan trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, offered by Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The latest, however, is perhaps the most ludicrous: that a pending trade agreement will somehow lead to restrictions on firearms and ammunition. Let’s just stop right there. Not gonna happen.
Chairman Ryan is one of the strongest proponents of gun rights in Congress and would never allow trade agreements to restrict them. Period. The United States is not negotiating any changes to U.S. gun laws in any trade agreements. And any member of Congress can read the latest negotiating texts to see that for themselves.
Still, it may be helpful to recount all the safeguards included in TPA to protect against this or any other type of overreach in trade negotiations.
First, TPA allows members to have full view of trade negotiations.
As noted, all members of Congress are given access to read the text of trade negotiations as they happen. In addition, any member can request a briefing from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office at any time to inquire about any issue. Members can even attend negotiating rounds in person, if they choose to.
The public will have months to read an agreement before any vote
Turns out “fast-track” isn’t actually very fast. Under TPA, an agreement will need to be public and posted online for 60 days before the president can even give his consent and send it to Congress. And at least 30 days before a vote, the administration needs to spell out exactly how it will implement an agreement. The public will have months to see what’s in and what’s out so there aren’t any surprises.
TPA makes clear that only Congress can change U.S. law.
A trade agreement reached by the administration doesn’t mean a thing until Congress passes legislation to enact it. TPA includes language explicitly reiterating that only Congress can change U.S. law. Even if the administration was pursuing changes to gun laws – and it’s not – this Republican Congress would never approve them.
TPA makes clear that U.S. law overrides any agreement.
To assuage any concerns that the president could go around Congress and somehow enforce changes in a trade agreement on its own, TPA includes explicit language that U.S. law overrides anything in a trade agreement. The only way U.S. law will change is if Congress changes it.
TPA makes clear that only changes to law strictly necessary to implement an agreement can be included in a trade bill.
This provision will prevent the president from including anything unrelated to trade in a bill to implement an agreement. No riders. No tangential changes to law. Under TPA, the only changes to U.S. law are going to be ones “strictly” necessary to meet our obligations under an agreement.
TPA makes clear Congress can turn off TPA’s up-or-down vote, if necessary.
What happens if the administration doesn’t meet Congress’s transparency and consultation requirements or tries to include extraneous provisions in an implementing bill? Not only could Congress vote that agreement down, it can actually turn off TPA for that bill and remove the up-or-down vote. This off-switch is another tool to hold the administration accountable to Congress.
TPA makes clear Congress has the final say.
This is the bottom line: Nothing is going to become law without Congress saying so. Under TPA, Congress gets the final say on any trade agreement.