- THE MAGAZINE
With the Obama Administration still feeling the sting of a rocky start for its healthcare initiative, does it have the political capital in the U.S. Congress to keep the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) moving?
Without the so-called fast-track authority, the U.S. Trade Representative is essentially in a position of negotiating with the sovereign nations engaged in the talks and with the U.S. Congress. According to Scott Miller and Matthew Goodman, writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the negotiating team “must make complicated judgments about the content of a deal that can deliver a working majority of the Congress.”
Negotiating on the issues of market access, intellectual property rights and state-owned enterprises will be tough enough among the nations engaged in the talks, but finding negotiated positions that will both satisfy the mix of countries involved and is capable of satisfying both parties to win Congressional approval is a monumental test of political will and diplomatic skill.
Among the parties negotiating the agreement, the Obama Administration is perhaps the most focused on an early result. As Miller and Goodman point out, the U.S. will face mid-term Congressional elections starting in mid-year. At least part of the Congress will be distracted by campaigning and may not want to be explaining TPP and their position to constituents.
So, if the negotiating team cannot bring a trade pact to Congress before campaigning begins in earnest, action could be delayed until after the election. And, at that point, the agreement, should it be languishing in Congress, will face a new mix of lawmakers and the Administration could be looking at expending more political capital just to maintain a position reached prior to the election.
The other negotiators are aware of the U.S. position and for those that do not face similar pressures at home, delay could give them leverage with the U.S.
Among world leaders, the disclosure of alleged U.S. eavesdropping on foreign leaders sparked some public outrage but did not likely cause a lot of damage. Call it a “well-known secret” that governments monitor each other — friend and foe. In the rules of espionage etiquette, it’s just not discussed in “polite company.” More important to the TPP countries (and others) are the U.S. military interests and role in the region.
An administration that has had to do a lot of damage control lately was not helped when Senator John McCain “went maverick,” telling Ukrainian protesters that the U.S. was with them. Crowds cheered “Thank you, USA,” not “Thank you, John McCain,” clearly interpreting his words as a promise. With the Ukraine membership in the European Union off the table, McCain’s words ran deep for the anti-Russian protesters.
McCain’s words have already drawn a harsh response from the Russian leadership and the Obama Administration will have to deal with the Russians if it chooses to keep McCain’s promise or it will have to face down John McCain in Congress just when it may need his support on foreign policy.
It’s still early in President Obama’s second term, and one question that looms is whether he has enough political capital in his account to achieve a significant goal, like concluding the TPP.