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Would a Republican Senate Victory Boost Obama’s Free Trade Agenda?

Posted November 04, 2014

With momentum breaking in their favour in recent weeks, Republicans are widely expected to expand their majority in the House in today’s mid-term elections and possibly even recapture the Senate majority for the first time since 2006.
Although Republican control of Congress would almost certainly give President Barack Obama political headaches for his final two years in office, one area where many believe common ground could be found – and might perhaps even be advantageous to the administration – is that of U.S. trade policy.

As the New York Times recently pointed out, “Democrats like Mr. Reid have resisted giving Mr. Obama trade negotiating authority, so a Republican Senate may be better for the president on this issue.” The Associated Press echoed the sentiment yesterday: “With Republicans favored to take control of the Senate and expand their House majority in Tuesday’s election, trade could become a rare point of agreement between a Republican Congress and the White House.”

Not everyone, however, feels that a Republican-controlled Congress would necessarily ensure smoother sailing for President Obama’s trade agenda. Writing in the Washington Post today, Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner speculates that “the GOP might use trade promotion authority as a bargaining chip to try to constrain the Obama administration’s recent forays into bypassing Congress” and suggests that it would be naïve to automatically assume Republicans would grant Obama “fast-track” authority “merely because it ideologically supports free trade.”

Even if the administration somehow manages to obtain trade promotion authority from a Republican-controlled Congress, Drezens seems doubtful that it would have much impact at this stage in expediting negotiations on the TTP and TTIP trade agreements owing to the fact that “Japanese and EU trade negotiators are facing their own domestic constraints.”