June 11,2015

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Hatch: Trade Promotion Authority Enhances Congress’ Role in Trade

In a speech on the Senate floor, Utah senator says, “Without TPA, members of Congress and their constituents have no strong voice on establishing our trade priorities.  With TPA, Congress can define trade negotiating objectives and priorities.”


WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) highlighted a number of provisions in the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 that enhance Congress’ role in trade policy, saying that with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), Congress - not the administration - maintains the ultimate authority over trade agreements.

“In addition to preserving and enhancing Congress’s role in trade policy, the Senate-passed TPA bill contains a number of provisions that actually constrain the administration as it negotiates and implements new trade agreements,” Hatch said. “The bill makes clear that any commitments made by the administration that are not disclosed to Congress before an implementing bill for an agreement is introduced will not be considered as part of the agreement and will have no force of law.”

The complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:       

        Mr. President, last month the Senate passed the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 which renews Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA. Years of hard work and compromise enabled us to pass the bill with strong bipartisan support here in the Senate.

        Now, with the Senate having already acted, all of our eyes are turned to the House of Representatives, where I know the Speaker and the Republican leadership, not to mention the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee – who is a co-author of the bill – are working to move this important bill forward. 

        I want to take some time today to address some of the concerns I’ve heard from our House colleagues and others about this bill and the concept of TPA in general. 

        For example, I know that some have claimed that TPA cedes too much congressional authority to the Executive Branch.  This is a particularly troublesome proposition for some of my Republican House colleagues who might be wary of granting new powers to the current occupant of the White House. 

        Now, let me be clear: I have spent as much time as anyone in Congress criticizing President Obama’s executive overreach.  I’ve come to the floor numerous times to catalog all the ways the current administration has overstepped its authority on issues ranging from health care to immigration to labor policy.  In fact, I was here just yesterday talking about efforts on the part of the administration to unilaterally undermine welfare reform.

         So, when people say they are worried about legislation that would take power from Congress and give it to this President, believe me, I understand.  I would worry about that too.

         But that is not what our TPA legislation does. 

         Simply put, TPA is a compact between the House, the Senate, and the administration.  With TPA in place, the administration agrees to pursue negotiating objectives established by Congress and is required to consult with Congress on a regular basis throughout the negotiating process. 

         In return, the House and Senate agree to vote on any trade agreements that meet those requirements under a specified timeline without amendments. 

         The President doesn’t have any new powers under this compact and Congress doesn’t give any powers up.  In fact, the primary purpose of TPA is to enhance Congress’s role in the negotiating process. 

         That’s right, Mr. President, despite some claims that TPA is an abrogation of congressional power, the opposite is actually true. 

         Without TPA, members of Congress and their constituents have no strong voice on establishing our trade priorities. 

         With TPA, Congress can define trade negotiating objectives and priorities.

         Without TPA, the administration is under no formal obligation to provide Congress with meaningful information on the status of ongoing trade negotiations.

         With TPA, Congress can require the administration to provide frequent updates and consultations. 

          For example, the Senate-passed TPA bill will ensure that any member of Congress who wants access to negotiating text – at any time during the negotiations – will get it.  In addition, members of Congress will – once again, at any time – be able to request and receive a briefing from USTR on the current status of ongoing trade negotiations. 

          In other words, Mr. President, TPA gives Congress a much stronger say in the substance of our country’s trade negotiations and provides mechanisms to hold the administration far more accountable.  Right now, the Obama Administration is negotiating trade agreements with only ad-hoc and informal direction from Congress.  That will all change once Congress renews TPA. 

         Still, I know that there are some who believe that, by agreeing not to allow amendments or filibusters of trade agreements, Congress is giving up most of its power to influence trade agreements on the back end, once an agreement is actually signed.

         Again, let me be clear:  Under TPA, Congress, at all times, maintains the ultimate authority over a trade agreement – the power to reject it entirely.   TPA does not guarantee the passage of any trade agreement now or in the future, nor does it, as some have argued, reduce votes in Congress to a “rubber stamp” for the administration. 

         This is important, Mr. President, as there has been some confusion on this point: With the coming vote on TPA, the House of Representatives is not voting to approve any individual trade agreement.  I know that pundits and talking heads in the media have tried to conflate passage of TPA with Congress’s approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  But, in reality, these are separate and distinct propositions.

         Case in point, over the last couple of years, I have been the most outspoken advocate in Congress in favor of renewing TPA.  However, throughout that time, I have made it abundantly clear that my support for TPA does not guarantee my support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Indeed, I am fully prepared to vote against the TPP if the administration falls short on reaching high-priority negotiating objectives.  

         But, even if maintaining the power to accept or reject a trade agreement is not enough, the Senate-passed TPA bill contains procedures – including an all new procedure – that enable Congress to strip procedural protections from any trade agreement if it determines that there was inadequate consultation or that the negotiating objectives have not been met.  Additionally, under the bill, both the House and the Senate maintain their constitutional prerogative to change their respective rules to override TPA. 

         So, as you can see, Mr. President, Congress does not give up any of its powers under TPA.

         In addition to preserving and enhancing Congress’s role in trade policy, the Senate-passed TPA bill contains a number of provisions that actually constrain the administration as it negotiates and implements new trade agreements. 

         For example, the bill ensures that implementing bills for trade agreements will include, and I’m quoting the text of the bill here, “only such provisions as are strictly necessary or appropriate to implement” trade agreements.

         Additionally, the bill makes clear that any commitments made by the administration that are not disclosed to Congress before an implementing bill for an agreement is introduced will not be considered as part of the agreement and will have no force of law. 

         Furthermore, the bill also ensures that trade agreements cannot be used to undermine U.S. sovereignty – another concern I’ve heard about TPA and one I wanted to make sure we were protected against.  The bill accomplishes this goal in four important ways.

         First, it makes clear that any provision of a trade agreement that is inconsistent with federal or state law will have no effect.  Second, the bill states specifically that federal and state laws will prevail in the event of a conflict with a trade agreement.  Third, it affirms that no trade agreement can prevent Congress or the states from changing their laws in the future.  Fourth, it confirms that the administration cannot unilaterally change U.S. law.

         All of these provisions have been drafted with an eye toward maintaining the separation of powers and ensuring that no administration can use trade agreements to unilaterally rewrite U.S. laws or policy.

        We’ve all heard claims that President intends to use trade agreements to change our immigration laws or enact strict climate change standards.  TPA ensures that, throughout the process of negotiating, finalizing, and approving a trade agreement, Congress stays in the driver’s seat. 

        Finally, Mr. President, I want to address the concerns that I’ve heard about the supposed secrecy surrounding the TPP agreement.  Some of our House colleagues – as well as a number of people in the media – have decried the fact that the details of the TPP have not yet been made public. They have also argued that, by renewing TPA before the details of the deal are disclosed, Congress would be enabling further secrecy. 

         Again, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of simple negotiation tactics.

         The TPP is still being negotiated.  And, as with any high-stakes negotiation, some level of confidentiality is a must if we’re going to get the best deal possible with eleven other parties at the table. 

         In all sensitive negotiations, there is a time for disclosure and a time to hold your cards close to your chest. 

         Still, I recognize that, with trade negotiations, our government is negotiating on behalf of the American people and we need to ensure that maximum amount of transparency possible.

         Fortunately, the Senate-passed TPA bill strikes an appropriate balance to deal with these issues, providing unprecedented levels of transparency and oversight into the trade negotiating process. 

         Under our bill, the full text of a completed trade agreement must be made public at least 60 days before the President can even sign it.  This is an all new requirement, Mr. President, giving the American people new and unprecedented access and knowledge of all trade agreements well before they are even submitted to Congress for approval.

         After that 60 day period has expired and the President signs an agreement, he must submit to Congress the legal text of a trade agreement and a Statement of Administrative Action at least 30 days before formally submitting an implementing bill. 

         And, as I noted earlier, the bill includes all new requirements giving members of Congress access to text and information throughout the negotiating process. 

         Any member of the House of Representatives that supports free trade but is concerned about the secrecy of current negotiations should be the first in line to support the Senate-passed TPA bill.  And, once again, any supporters of expanded U.S. exports that are also wary about executive overreach should be trumpeting their support for our bill.

         The Senate TPA bill enhances Congress’s role in trade negotiations.

         The Senate TPA bill maintains Congress’s power to accept or reject any future trade agreement.

         The Senate TPA bill prevents the President from pursuing unilateral changes to U.S. law or policy.

         And, the Senate TPA bill provides unprecedented levels of transparency and oversight into trade agreements.  

          Now, I’m sure that some of the cynics out there have one more question:  If TPA imposes all of these requirements and restrictions on the administration, why does the President want it so bad?

          The answer to that question is simple:  TPA is necessary in order for our negotiators to get a good deal.

          We know this is the case, Mr. President. 

          Without TPA in place, our negotiating partners have no guarantees that the deal they sign will be the one Congress will consider.  Without those guarantees, they are less likely to put their best offers on the table because they will have no assurances that our country can deliver on the deal.

          And, make no mistake, we need to get good deals at the negotiating table.

          More than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States.  If our farmers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs are going to compete on the world stage, they need access to these customers.  History has shown that high-standard free trade agreements expand market access for U.S. exporters and reduce our trade deficits.  Most importantly, they grow our economy and create good, high-paying jobs for workers here at home and improve living standards for our citizens and for our trading partners.

           If the U.S. is going to advance its values and interests in the international marketplace, we need to be writing the rules and setting the standards.  We cannot do that if we are sitting on the sidelines.

           This is an important bill, Mr. President.  I was very glad to see it pass the Senate with bipartisan support.  I hope that, in the coming days, we will see a similar result in the House of Representatives.