By Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)
It’s said that when the plan for the ancient city of Alexandria was presented to the great Alexander, his master builder pointed with pride to an ingenious way to honor the city’s namesake. All of the city’s water supply would be channeled to a great central fountain featuring a giant statue of Alexander, and then flow from it to the surrounding city.
When Alexander seemed unimpressed, his architect explained the symbolism: Water—the life’s blood of the city—would flow from Alexander to Alexandria.
Alexander replied, “Water is NOT the life’s blood of a city. COMMERCE is the life’s blood of a city.” The statue of Alexander was placed instead at the entrance to the great Port of Alexandria.
As it is with city states it is with nation states. Every nation that engages in trade prospers from it. Every nation that fails to trade, fails to prosper.
Today, international trade agreements are the means by which nations establish the terms of their trade. This often requires intricate negotiations with trading partners, and our trading partners must be confident that the United States is bargaining in good faith and that what is decided at the bargaining table will not be revoked or redefined at a congressional table.
The Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce with other nations. Congress thus has the final say over any trade agreement, but trading partners must have confidence that once the agreement has been reached, it represents the last best offer of both sides—a meeting of the minds that won’t be repeatedly altered after the fact.
That is why, since the 1930’s, Congress has chosen to exercise its responsibility by establishing the broad terms of the agreement it seeks and then giving explicit instructions to our negotiators at the beginning of the process. IF, and only IF, these objectives are advanced in the agreement, Congress will then consider it as a whole package and either approve it or reject it.
That process is now called “Trade Promotion Authority.” It has stood the test of time, has been used to the great benefit of our nation in the past and has never been controversial until now.
From the left, the opposition comes from protectionist special interests. They fail to learn from the painful lessons of history. Protectionism is the fastest way to destroy an economy, as this nation has learned repeatedly, including during the Jefferson administration and again in the Hoover administration.
From the right, opposition comes from mistrust of this President’s judgment and competence, a mistrust I completely and unequivocally share.
It is precisely because of this mistrust that the Trade Promotion Authority sets forth some 150 objectives that must be advanced before Congress will even consider the resulting agreement. And once those objectives are attained, a majority of the Congress must still approve it.
This measure does not empower the President to do his own thing; it binds the President to faithfully execute the will of Congress.
Trade Promotion Authority simply continues a time-proven process through which Congress exercises its authority to regulate commerce at the beginning of negotiations, so trading partners can have a reasonable expectation that their painstaking negotiations, compromises and concessions won’t be subsequently ripped asunder and reopened when Congress acts.
Indeed, the successful Base Realignment and Closure Commission process worked on exactly the same principle.
Let me repeat: this gives the President no new authority. It binds him to Congress’ will at the outset of negotiations, and promises ONLY that IF the objectives set by Congress are advanced, will the Congress agree—NOT necessarily to approve the agreement—but to vote on it without opening new issues or causing unnecessary delays.
The statue at one of our greatest ports is not of a person but an ideal—liberty. It is freedom that produces prosperity—the free exchange of goods between people and between nations for their mutual betterment. The greater the freedom, the greater the prosperity. Trade Promotion Authority is the means by which this freedom is advanced.
Freedom works. It is time we put it back to work.