Rep. Ryan and Rep. Pocan at odds on U.S. trade bill

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Frank Schultz
June 16, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The congressional districts of Reps. Mark Pocan and Paul Ryan share a border in Rock County, but they could not be farther apart on a key trade bill facing the House of Representatives.

The two made their cases to The Gazette in phone interviews this week.

The Trade Promotion Authority bill failed in the House on Friday, in large part due to Democrats such as Pocan.

Those Democrats voted against their party's leader, President Barack Obama, even after he made his appeal in person on Capitol Hill.

Obama and Republican Ryan, meanwhile, agree on this issue, even though they crossed swords when Ryan was the Republicans' vice presidential candidate when Obama was re-elected in 2012.

“I ran against this man in the last election. I still disagree with him on most issues. I happen to agree with him on this issue,” Ryan said.

Some Democrats, including La Crosse's Rep. Ron Kind, are on board with Ryan and Obama.

The bill will help Wisconsin's farmers and small manufacturers, who will benefit from the opening of foreign markets to their products, strengthening the U.S. economy, Ryan contends.

The bill would require Congress to give any trade agreement an up or down vote, with no changes.

“America should be leading the world in writing the rulebook on the global economy in negotiating trade agreements,” Ryan said.

But the U.S. can't do so without this authority, Ryan said.

Pocan said he has read classified drafts of the upcoming Trans Pacific Partnership deal, and they contain no enforcement for labor and environmental standards or currency manipulation.

The treaty also would give up U.S. sovereignty, solving disputes instead with a three-person tribunal of corporate lawyers, Pocan said.

Pocan said he and others have asked the administration for assurances that those things will be fixed, but the White House has made it clear there will be no changes, Pocan said.

Malaysia has human trafficking issues, Pocan said, while Vietnam pays “pocket change” per hour to workers, and Congress would have no say-so about those issues.

“This is a huge trade deal, and we'd rather get it right than get it fast,” Pocan said.

The bill proposes to give presidents this authority for six years, which means Obama, his successor and potentially a third president, Pocan notes.

Congress cannot give up its ability to amend treaties with so many unknowns, Pocan contends, because it risks disastrous trade deals such as the ones that harmed U.S. workers in the past.

Since Friday, Ryan has been saying the bill still has a chance of passing if Obama can wrest more votes from members of his own party.

Pocan does not seem inclined to change his vote.

Ryan said that without the no-amendment up/down vote, Obama's negotiators have no chance to get other countries' last, best offer on trade deals. Those countries would know that Congress could change the terms and send it back to the bargaining table.

Waiting in the wings are major trade deals, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

The U.S. hasn't signed any trade deals in the seven years that the president hasn't had this authority, Ryan said, even though Congress has given it to other presidents.

Without the authority, the U.S. can't negotiate deals to get the rest of the world to abide by American rules for trade, Ryan said.

Instead, China and others will negotiate trade pacts that exclude the United States, Ryan said.

With the trade deals, the U.S. will gain access to rapidly growing markets and be able to keep jobs here at home, Ryan contends.

“If we do not lead, we are going to fall further behind,” Ryan said.

Pocan said some Democrats might be moved if the bill is tied to a highway-funding proposal. For himself, he wants Congress to retain at least some ability to amend trade agreements.

Ryan, when asked why he has not been able to sway enough votes with America's economy hanging in the balance, said: “It's a darn good question. When I get the answer, I'll let you know."

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