By Tory Newmyer
December 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

As the presidential race tilts off its axis, it can be easy to miss some of the real-time, real-world consequences. Here’s a big one: The Trans Pacific Partnership, the mega-trade deal topping the corporate lobby’s wish list, finds itself newly imperiled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening to ice the 12-nation pact until after the 2016 elections, an acknowledgment in part that the populist crosswinds stirred by the campaign make Congressional approval in the next year a long shot. The Kentucky Republican, in an interview this week with the Washington Post, said it’d be a “big mistake” for President Obama to send up the deal any earlier and suggested his successor should determine its fate.

That represents a stark about-face from early summer. Back then, McConnell and the rest of Congressional Republican leadership locked arms with the business community and the Obama administration in an unlikely coalition that narrowly secured fast-track negotiating authority to smooth completion of the pact. Since, the rise of Donald Trump has rattled the GOP to its core. The Republican frontrunner regularly trashes the agreement as the work of elites indifferent to American workers who stand to suffer. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, angling to inherit Trump’s supporters if he falters, has likewise denounced it. And others who in ordinary circumstances would champion the package, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now are hugging the sidelines. Trump can’t claim credit (which isn’t to say he won’t), but he has helped complete a feedback loop that’s toxifying the debate.

There are other forces at work. McConnell’s home state tobacco interests object that the pact excludes them from protections extended to other agricultural sectors. And pharmaceutical companies are protesting that the deal shaves four years of intellectual property protections off of next-generation biologic drugs — a major stumbling block for Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, from Utah, a growing industry hub. Those complaints are at least temporarily neutralizing the big business groups that would otherwise help lead the charge, leaving the White House alone among the deal’s erstwhile boosters to urge action in the first half of next year. The administration will do what it can, arguing that while the U.S. dithers, China is racing to wrap up its own multilateral agreement to cement its primacy in the Asia-Pacific region. But at home, in an election season, global considerations will struggle to surmount parochial fears.

Tory Newmyer


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