We have heard so little about the Trans-Pacific Partnership over the past couple of months that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Obama administration simply abandoned it. But tomorrow, representatives from the 12 TPP nations assemble in Atlanta for a two-day meeting designed to produce a final agreement.
Previous “final” talks in Maui revealed multiple hurdles, from dairy markets to auto parts manufacturing to the length of prescription drug patents. But this Atlanta meeting was abruptly put together, suggesting progress on the sidelines. While nobody thought TPP could conclude before Canada’s parliamentary campaign ends Oct. 19, the New Zealand prime minister said Canada is “negotiating as if there’s no election.”
But even if negotiators work out a tentative agreement this week, the biggest announcement on TPP may have already happened. That would be last Friday’s resignation of House Speaker John Boehner.
Trade promotion authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade agreements and bring them to Congress for an expedited vote, barely passed the House earlier this year. Fifty-four Republicans voted against it, among them practically all the ringleaders of the campaign against Boehner – like Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who took the leadership role in ousting him; David Brat, the man who upset Eric Cantor and took his House seat; Jim Jordan, chairman of the anti-Boehner House Freedom Caucus; and 23 members of that caucus in all.
Obviously, those who spurred the Boehner revolt are emboldened by their apparent victory. In the short term this will not bear fruit. Boehner has vowed to use his final month to prevent a government shutdown and defuse other potential crises. He could reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, pass highway spending, and even raise the debt ceiling. “I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets here,” Boehner said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
But the peculiarities of trade promotion authority make it impossible for Boehner to be in the speaker’s office when TPP comes up for a vote. Under the law, even if trade officials announce an agreement today, they must provide notification to Congress, wait 30 days, and then post the deal’s text on a public website for an additional 60 days before signing. Then there’s another 30 to 60 days where the administration must submit the final legal text and describe what changes to U.S. law must be put into implementing legislation. Only after that does the congressional process start.
What this all means is that an agreement announced at the end of the ministerial meetings could not reach Congress until Feb. 1, 2016, at the very earliest. Trade expert Lori Wallach of Public Citizen puts the earliest possible date at Feb. 15. And these are based on very accelerated timelines that assume no slip-ups or delays when the legal text gets scrubbed.
Wallach correctly calls this “the most politically perilous moment in U.S. politics.” Feb. 1 is the current scheduled date of the Iowa caucuses. And rank-and-file House Republicans would have to vote on TPP around the same time that potential challengers can raise the issue in their 2016 primaries.
This article originally appeared on Salon.