An Urban's Rural View

Party Platforms Keep TPP on Life Support

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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It was looking like the Democratic and Republican Party platforms would be the final nails in the coffin of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With none of the major presidential candidates in either party supporting the 12-nation trade agreement, both platforms seemed likely to include anti-TPP language.

It didn't happen. Yes, the Republican platform writers abandoned their party's traditional rah-rahs for free trade, but they didn't mention TPP, even though Donald Trump has promised to scrap it (…). The Democratic platform is also silent on TPP, which Hillary Clinton has suggested she wants renegotiated (…).

Thus does the TPP, which was essentially declared dead on arrival when it was presented to Congress for ratification, remain on life support. Even now, its future is uncertain, dependent on Congress taking it up in the "Lame Duck" session after the November elections—and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the chances of that happening are "pretty slim" (…).

But a slim chance and no chance are two different things. Anti-TPP language in the platforms would have pulled the plug on the deal.

Many farm groups support TPP, which the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates would boost agricultural exports $7.2 billion over 15 years (…). Some of them have expressed confidence that TPP will be brought up for a vote in the Lame Duck (…).

Ag's TPP proponents will appreciate Bloomberg columnist Paula Dwyer's analysis of the platforms. She calls the Democrats' rejection of Bernie Sanders' proposed anti-TPP language "important news" (…). It signals, she writes, that trade deals like TPP could be "resurrected." She credits Clinton for the rejection, declaring, "She held her ground on trade."

As for the Republicans, Dwyer concedes the GOP platform contains "Trumpian notes." They're so broadly worded, though, that a president could interpret them "as loosely or tightly as he wishes." Overall, she argues, the platform remains "open to free trade.

That's not the note the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the GOP platform strikes (…). "The GOP document represents a stark and formal change for the party, calling for an 'America First' policy toward trade deals that echoes Mr. Trump's campaign slogan," the Journal's story says. "Democrats, likewise, in recent platform positions said free-trade pacts should receive closer scrutiny, a nod to antitrade forces within their party."

Bewildered by these conflicting interpretations, a reader might rightfully wonder whether platforms matter. They certainly matter less than they would in a parliamentary democracy, where the ruling party in the legislature also exercises executive power and parties are expected to govern the way they campaigned.

The U.S., with its division of power and thus responsibility, is different. Our history is littered with examples of parties that have not felt constrained by their platform promises. One of the most famous is Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 Democratic Party platform, which promised to balance the budget. Once in office, FDR opted for deficit spending (…).

Still, it would be extremely difficult this year for a Lame Duck Congress to take up the TPP if both parties' platforms had specifically opposed it. That neither explicitly did doesn't guarantee that a vote will be held. It certainly doesn't guarantee that TPP will pass if Congress does vote. If the candidates take frequent swipes at TPP in the months ahead, what's in the platforms could become irrelevant. But the silence of the platforms at least keeps TPP alive for now. In the country's current populist anti-trade mood, that's probably the most pro-TPP ag groups can hope for.

Urban Lehner



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