Saturday, July 16, 2016

From the Archives: Virginia Congressman Robert Hurt speaks out for free trade in Charlottesville

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on June 13, 2015. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Virginia Congressman Robert Hurt speaks out for free trade in Charlottesville

Appearing at the monthly Albemarle County Republican breakfast on June 13, Congressman Robert Hurt (R-VA5) vigorously defended his vote in favor of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in the House of Representatives on June 12.

Noting that opposition to the TPA and related bills (Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP) comes largely from labor unions and left-leaning liberals like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Hurt said that support for free trade is a conservative principle that “would make Ronald Reagan proud.”

In an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner immediately after his breakfast remarks, Hurt explained what the TPA does and what it does not do, and emphasized that there is not yet an agreement for the Trans Pacific Partnership – that the TPP is still being negotiated.

“What we voted on yesterday was the Trade Promotion Authority, also known as TPA,” Hurt said. The bill “passed with a large Republican majority in support.”

Framework and authorization
He explained that TPA sets up a framework and gives authorization to the President “to finish negotiating trade agreements” that have been under consideration for years. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, he noted, “was begun under George Bush, so this is not like this is Obama's idea. This was initiated under a previous president.”

Hurt pointed out that “in order for us to even consider a free trade agreement – which was not on the floor – in order for us just to consider it, we had to pass a Trade Promotion Authority to give the president the ability to finalize the negotiations with the other 11 countries (in the case of TPP) and, not only that, but it gives Congress and the American people a tremendous amount of transparency” that would not be available without the TPA in place.

The congressman said that “as it is now [the President] doesn't have to share anything with Congress. That's why the negotiating text of a free trade agreement that does not exist is classified. That's because the Administration has the power to control that negotiating text and doesn't have to do anything with Congress.”

Under TPA, he said, “the President not only has to give us access to it currently and in the future, [he] also has to make it publicly available before anybody votes on anything for at least two months prior to it is even considered by Congress so that our constituents can hear and can look at every single word and see what the agreement does and what it doesn't do.”

Hurt explained that since he has been in Congress, he has voted for two free trade agreements (with Colombia and Panama) and voted against another (with South Korea).

“The devil's always in the details,” he said. “For people who are getting so upset about this bill, I think there's some misunderstanding that somehow what we voted on Friday was a free trade agreement. It was not a free trade agreement.”

Asked whether a trade agreement like this would get pushback from conservatives if it were promoted by President Romney rather than President Obama, Hurt demurred.

“Great question,” he said, adding “I don't know. It's hard to say. It's hard to attribute motive.”

That question makes the point, he suggested, that “this President has so soured any reasonable relationship with Congress and he is so distrusted among so many of the American people because of his abuse of the rule of law in this country that people push back for that reason – but this vote yesterday had nothing to do with President Obama.”

Hurt stated that he does not “trust President Obama to follow the rule of law. He's demonstrated again and again that he cannot.”

Setting that aside, he said, the TPA does not give the President “any authority to do anything that he cannot already do. It gives him restrictions in negotiating objectives that are in TPA but it doesn't give him any additional power to make any law.”

Hurt cited Internet rumors like “'this means we're going to give the president the authority to change immigration law!'” Those, he said, are “just totally, 100 percent false. It does not.”

He explained that, contrary to those rumors, “in order for any law of the United States to change, it has to come through Congress.”

Moreover, he said, “if it's pursuant to a free trade agreement, it has to come through Congress twice, because it has to be adopted as a free trade agreement and, secondly, the actual change of the law has to be adopted through implementing legislation, which would be a second shot at the apple.”

Taking aim at the Internet rumor mill, Hurt asserted that “the idea that this President can affect any of our laws unilaterally or that we're going to submit to some international tribunal is just hogwash.”

Hurt also emphasized how free trade will benefit his constituents in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District.

As a legislator, he said, “I have to look at the economy of the Fifth District the way it is in 2015, not the way it was in 1980 or 1990 or 2000. Our economy has changed a tremendous amount” over the past thirty years.

He pointed out that “agriculture is huge,” the largest sector in Virginia's economy, with $75 billion in output each year. The Fifth District has 23 counties and cities and “with the exception of Charlottesville and Danville, it is mostly rural, mostly agricultural.”

'Opportunities for growth'
“There are huge opportunities” in agriculture, he said, “but let me tell you this: There are opportunities for growth. There are opportunities for our manufacturers to access these foreign markets and sell our products that we make here there and we get their cash.”

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is finalized – a prospect that Hurt says is a year or more in the future “I will look very carefully and make my best judgment as to whether or not this is good on balance for the people I represent.”

If, by his consideration, the agreement is not good on balance for the Fifth District, “I'll vote against it and work for its defeat. If it is good, on balance, for the people I represent, [if it] creates jobs and opportunity and growth and it projects American strength in a very sensitive area geopolitically, in the shadow of China,” he said, he will vote for it.

As to free trade in general, Hurt concluded, “I think it's consistent with Republican principles, consistent with conservative principles. It would make Ronald Reagan proud.”

Note: the full audio of this interview with Congressman Robert Hurt is available as a podcast from Bearing Drift.


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