Update: Rand Paul Comes Out Against Fast Track

Occasionally reality intrudes on a good essay. In a previous article, I stated that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz supported “fast track” authorization, officially known as trade promotion authority or TPA, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I pointed out Paul and Cruz in particular because I thought it was noteworthy and disappointing that the two candidates who are running the most conspicuously as anti-establishment outsiders would take such a quintessentially establishment position.

I was even working on a separate article expressing my particular dismay with Rand Paul for his apparent support of fast track given the unique role his father Ron Paul played in uniting hard-core libertarians and fair traders against “free” trade deals in the past such as NAFTA and the more recent trade deal with Korea. Then, the junior Senator from Kentucky belatedly came out against fast track. He made his clear opposition public on May 11, the day before the first fast track vote in the senate. (Fast track was initially blocked, but was advanced later after some serious arm twisting of Democrats by President Obama.) Rand’s opposition was a pleasant development, but it sure did mess up the article I was writing and necessitated this clarification to my previous article. .

Ted Cruz’s support of fast track was always unambiguous. He co-authored with Rep. Paul Ryan an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in support of fast track. (Way to stick it to the man, there Ted.) To make matters worse, the article is absurdly titled “Putting Congress in Charge of Trade” which is precisely the opposite of what fast track does. Does the notoriously bright Cruz think we are all stupid?

Paul’s seeming support for fast track was always less explicit, but, in my defense, was widely assumed and commented on. While researching my previous article, to verify that Paul did actually support fast track, I plugged (without quotes) “Rand Paul fast track TPP” into Yahoo and got this article, “If Rand Paul is so Pro Sovereignty, Why Does He Want to Prioritize the TPP?” Many of the top hits in my search were this same article, just at different outlets. The search has since changed a lot due to Paul’s public pronouncement and the intervening vote.

The linked article is critical of some remarks Rand made in a foreign policy speech he gave to The National Interest magazine. In his remarks, Rand clearly supports free trade in theory, and he clearly supports a trade deal with Asia. (Whether he has left himself enough wiggle room to oppose the final TPP on some technical grounds, we shall see.) His call for President Obama to “prioritize” trade deals was interpreted as a tacit endorsement of fast track by others and me. (I’ll leave it to the readers to determine if this was an understandable inference.)

In researching this article, I discovered that Paul has long been maddeningly ambiguous on the issue of fast track. I found one article documenting Paul’s skepticism about fast track as far back as 2013. While I could not find any instance of Paul explicitly endorsing fast track, I found several articles critical of Paul for supporting it, presumably also based on inference.

The reason why Rand’s previous ambiguity on fast track is so frustrating is because opposition to fast track should be a no brainer. When he did come out against it he did so for the stated reason that the deal was too secretive, and he was reluctant to cede Obama that much authority. While these are valid points, they strike me as a bit of a dodge when there are other much more fundamental reasons to oppose it. They justify his opposition without striking any serious blows against the TPP.

As I pointed out in my last article, fast track is a deliberate subversion of the normal legislative process and is arguably unconstitutional. For this reason alone it should be opposed on principle, regardless of what one thinks about free trade in general or the TPP in particular. Beyond that, the end point of the TPP that fast track is attempting to facilitate, should be opposed by both fair traders and principled free traders alike. Like NAFTA and KORUS before it, the TPP is a many thousand page managed trade monstrosity that no true free trader should support. It also sacrifices American sovereignty to supra-national tribunals, something no true patriot should support. So Rand could oppose fast track and TPP on process and sovereignty grounds and satisfy fair traders and claim free trade purism to satisfy his more libertarian supporters. This is a dynamic his father understood very well.

The main factions who support fast track and the TPP are corporatists, the business lobby (sorry I repeat myself), neoliberals and soft Beltway libertarians like the folks at CATO. Unfortunately for our side, those folks give a lot of money and wield a lot of influence. That they have Rand Paul’s ear and are likely responsible for his unwillingness to come out full bore against fast track and the TPP, is suggested in this Wall Street Journal article on Rand’s “Fast Track Dilemma.” I fear that his less than full throated condemnation of fast track and his praise of trade deals in general leaves him plenty of wiggle room to vote for final approval of the TPP. However, his ultimate opposition to fast track, belated and tepid though it was, seems to have been clearly motivated by concerns about his base and Presidential primary political calculus.

We need to keep the pressure on Rand and remind him that opposition to fast track and the TPP is both good policy and good politics. I have already seen Rand’s opposition to fast track being used in conservative forums to differentiate him from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Cruz’s right flank is severely exposed on this issue, and Rand and his people would be wise to stay the course and exploit it.

This article is also published at The Economic Populist.

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