CEI Projects

The trade debate is heating up in the wake of President Obama’s nod to trade in his State of the Union address, the introduction this month of a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, and the on-going negotiation on two major trade deals.

A major schism among Democrats on trade broke out January 29, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview that he was against TPA, commonly known as “fast-track” legislation, which gives the president authority to negotiate trade agreements that are then voted on by Congress without amendments. Without fast-track, it’s difficult to negotiate final trade deals with other countries when they know Congress can change the terms. Reid was quoted as saying: “Everyone would be well-advised just to not push this right now.”

Reid’s opposition is in contrast to President Obama’s endorsement of fast-track authority in his State of the Union address earlier this week when he said:

We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.

Reid’s stance is at odds too with some leading Democrats, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who joined with Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to introduce a TPA bill on January 9. However, Baucus’ active leadership on TPA may be in question, since he was nominated to be Ambassador to China.

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Post image for New Farm Bill Will Deliver the Pork to Farmers

Last night House and Senate conferees agreed on a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that would eliminate long-standing direct payments to farmers but beef up the heavily subsidized crop insurance program. Farmers are pretty happy about that because federal crop insurance covers farmers’ crop losses or revenue losses, while the government pays a high percentage of the premiums’ costs and underwrites most of the insurance companies’ administrative costs.

The five-year farm bill replaces the 2008 farm bill, which had expired and was extended because Congress could not reach agreement on components of a new bill.

The command-and-control sugar program remains in place, with its combination of controls on domestic supply, price supports, and restrictions on sugar imports. It has been estimated that the sugar program costs consumers up to $4 billion a year in increased costs, while driving many confectionery companies out of business or out of the country.

The bill would also continue U.S. country of origin labeling requirements for meat – COOL – even though the protectionist program is being challenged by Canada and Mexico as being discriminatory under World Trade Organization rules. COOL requires labeling that indicates where the animal was born and raised, where it was slaughtered and processed.

The conference agreement would include modest cuts to the food stamp program – about a one percent cut over 10 years or about $9 billion. Originally the House had pushed for more extensive cuts, but the Senate balked at those.

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CEI and its fellow plaintiffs are appealing an adverse District Court-level opinion in a lawsuit involving health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. General Counsel Sam Kazman explains the case’s importance not just for health care, but for the rule of law.

Post image for Trade Issues Heat Up — A New TPP Leak, “Fast-Track” Bill

WikiLeaks on January 15 leaked another chapter of the negotiation text of a major trade agreement – the environmental chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Environmental groups jumped on the text and said the U.S. position outlined in the documents shows backward steps in areas such as enforcement of environmental provisions and deference to multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

According to an article in the New York Times, the U.S. seems to be pushing for more extensive environmental provisions, but the other eleven negotiating parties are pushing back, arguing that such provisions would hamper needed growth in their countries.

For example, in the Chairs’ summary of different countries’ views on incorporating measures in TPP to fulfill specific MEAs and making those enforceable, only the U.S. supported that position. Ten of the twelve countries thought otherwise and indicated that since those agreements were negotiated in different circumstances, those obligations shouldn’t be subject to dispute settlement in TPP.

In an apparent reaction to the leaks and to negative reaction from environmental activists, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative late Wednesday afternoon issued a press release stating its strong commitment to the environmental chapter:

The United States’ position on the environment in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is this: environmental stewardship is a core American value, and we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.

The release went on to state:

In December the trade ministers of the 12 TPP countries met for three days to tackle tough issues together, including in the environment chapter. There, the United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter, as well as our strong commitments to provisions such as those combating wildlife trafficking and illegal logging.

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The D.C. Circuit Court decided against the FCC in the case Verizon v. FCC, striking down key provisions of the agency’s proposed net neutrality regulations. Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia argues that while the case looks like a victory on the surface, it still gives the FCC plenty of authority to enact similar rules.

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Senior Fellow William Yeatman argues that the REDO Act, up for a House vote today, would limit a practice called sue and settle. Friendly activist groups sue allied agencies over missed deadlines, and the settlements typically include enactment of policies that the agencies and the groups both favor. Sue and settle is a form of regulation without representation, without input from Congress or voters.

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With unemployment still painfully high more than five years after the financial crisis, Senior Fellow in Labor Policy Aloysius Hogan thinks that re-extending unemployment insurance would only make the problem worse.

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CEI President Lawson Bader looks at the challenges and successes of 2013, and looks ahead to 2014, when CEI will celebrate its 30th anniversary.

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The Food and Drug Administration recently banned 23andMe, a genetic testing service, from marketing its product to consumers. CEI Executive Director and Senior Fellow Gregory Conko thinks the FDA should reverse the ban.

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The Affordable Care Act’s subsides and tax credits are structured in such a way as to cause thousands of dollars worth of penalties for many married couples. CEI Senior Attorney Hans Bader proposes phasing them out as income rises to soften the blow.