Trade Agreements and America’s Failing Experiment

In what may appear to be a scene out of Bizarro World, many congressional Republicans are pushing to give President Obama fast-track trade negotiation authority while the president’s own party is doing its best to make sure that their leader fails in his effort to gain more authority over trade deals.

On one level, it’s straightforward interest-group politics at work: Democrats and their labor allies fighting the job losses that will may come with an agreement with Republicans and their business supporters focusing on the corporate profits to be made.

But on another level it’s an object lesson in the failure of modern American democracy, which Professor Kirby Goidel and I talked about in Politics Guys Episode 12: America’s Failing Experiment. In our conversation, and in his book, Professor Goidel argues that too much responsiveness to special interests and/or the specific interests in their districts makes congress unable to act in the general public interest. The president, on the other hand, as the only public official elected by the country as a whole, is in a much better position to act for the good of the entire country.

One of the solutions Professor Goidel suggests is greater use of mechanisms that limit congressional discretion while still giving congress a say. Fast-track trade authority, which allows congress to vote trade deals up or down, but doesn’t permit amendments, fits the bill perfectly. Too bad the president’s own party can’t see past its own short-term parochial interests and support him on this.

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