Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mike Froman and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

There is a very popular children’s book by Judith Viorst called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which follows the travails of a little boy to wakes up to a day that starts with gum in his hair and just keeps getting worse.  The reason the book, written over 30 years ago, remains so popular is because we all have those kinds of days.
Last Wednesday was that kind of day for US Trade Representative Michael Froman.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” for President Obama’s trade policy agenda.
The day started off wrong first thing in the morning with the announcement that WikiLeaks had made public a draft consolidated text of the intellectual property rights chapter of the ongoing TransPacific Partnership negotiations.  The text – even though it really just represents a snapshot of various countries’ positions back in August – is a godsend for TPP opponents because it gives them ammunition in their battle against the trade deal.
It also serves as a reminder to members of Congress that they are mostly being kept out of the loop about the negotiations – to the point that they have to rely on fugitive-from-the-law Julian Assange for their information.
Mr. Froman would argue that members are being consulted about TPP and trade policy in general.  He has repeatedly pointed out – as did his predecessor Ron Kirk – that the Administration has been operating as though the Congressional consultation process of the now expired Trade Promotion Authority was still in place.
But the problem is lawmakers apparently weren’t very happy with that process.
And that’s why the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day got worse.  Later that same day, over two-thirds of House Democrats released a letter saying they will oppose the TPP unless it comes with a new TPA process that gives them much more oversight of trade negotiations.  Then, 10 Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released their own letter saying they want more rigorous consultation and oversight in TPA.  And a group of House Republicans said they won’t vote for any TPA at all, because they’re not giving up their constitutional jurisdiction over commerce.
Then, just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for TPA or the TPP on Capitol Hill, the House’s biggest gun on trade weighed in.  Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich) put out his own statement blasting the Administration for failing to engage with Congress on the politically-important issue of whether disciplines on currency manipulation should be included in trade agreements like the TPP.  And he chided President Obama for missing a big opportunity to make the case for TPA when he gave a speech last week in New Orleans that was billed by the White House as a major address on trade.
Mr. Camp is getting annoyed because the attempt he’s been making for months to produce a bipartisan, bicameral TPA bill with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) is faltering – and he blames the White House for not helping.
Meanwhile, Mr. Camp’s Democratic counterpart, Sandy Levin (Mich), said he will vote against the TPP unless it includes currency provisions.  That position was echoed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (NC).
Mr. Froman’s response was that all this shows why Congress needs to pass TPA, so lawmakers can tell the Administration what they want in trade agreements.  But lawmakers say they need the President out in front making the case for why TPA is important for growing exports and creating US jobs.  Also, with TPP in the “end game” as Mr. Froman likes to say, it’s kind of too late for Congress to set negotiating objectives for an agreement that’s nearly complete.
So all in all, not a very good day.
In Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, throughout his bad day our hero keeps threatening to pick up and run off to Australia in order to get away from all his troubles.
The day ended yesterday with an announcement from USTR that Mr. Froman was headed to California, with a stop at Disney.
Have a good day.

Mary Berger

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