Phil Kerpen: New strategy offers Trump a much bigger NAFTA win

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In politics and public policy, sometimes a modest victory is actually a massive missed opportunity. President Trump is at risk of suffering just that kind of setback with the impending completion of negotiations on the new NAFTA – if he fails to heed the brilliant strategic advice of Senators Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner, and Steve Daines.

To date, NAFTA talks have revolved around important but obscure issues like investor-state dispute settlement, local content, and a potential sunset or review clause – hardly the typically visionary stuff of our chief executive.

These three senators have suggested a much bigger idea: a competitiveness chapter designed to codify and make permanent key Trump achievements on permit streamlining, regulatory reform, and workforce development that, once made part of a trade agreement, could be submitted for an automatic up or down Senate vote under fast-track Trade Promotion Authority without the possibility of a Democratic filibuster. The strategy is backed by dozens of conservative leaders.

The package would strengthen the core objectives of NAFTA renegotiation by assuring a more stable, business-friendly regulatory environment, making it more attractive for companies to invest and create jobs in the United States. It would also permanently fix the regulatory process, cementing a Trump legacy of pro-growth regulatory reform and making another Obama-like regulatory assault on the U.S. economy nearly impossible.

Mexico has added a placeholder chapter to the agreement for these provisions, and even if they or Canada objected they could simply note their exception and allow the president to still include these provisions in the enabling legislation submitted to Congress.

The most significant part of the Cruz-Gardner-Daines proposal is a bill called the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require all future costly regulations to be submitted to Congress for approval before they could take effect.

President Trump is a longtime supporter of this concept, telling me in response to a 2015 survey:

“I will sign the REINS Act should it reach my desk as President and more importantly I will work hard to get it passed. The monstrosity that is the Federal Government with its pages and pages of rules and regulations has been a disaster for the American economy and job growth. The REINS Act is one major step toward getting our government under control.”

Under President Obama, the REINS Act was needed to stop an onslaught of economically crippling regulations from the alphabet soup of federal agencies. Now that President Trump has stopped and largely reversed that onslaught, it would serve a different but no less important purpose: making those deregulatory accomplishments permanent, locking them in as a legacy into the next administration.

Without the REINS Act, President Trump’s highly successful pro-growth deregulatory efforts could prove ephemeral, reversed by the next Democratic administration that could put all the job-crushing Obama regulations back in place – and worse.

Along with other critical reforms in the Cruz-Gardner-Daines proposal including permit streamlining for major public and private infrastructure, resource extraction, and manufacturing projects as well as provisions to rationalize federal workforce development policies, the competitiveness chapter offers a big, visionary win worthy of President Trump.

By including the REINS Act, it would also end the shameful decades-long practice of Congress passing broad, vague laws and claiming credit for good intentions while leaving all the real economic decision-making to unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats. That would be a signature legislative accomplishment for members of Congress that they can be proud of and campaign on.  

With the potential for such a massive, historic victory within his grasp, it would be a shame if President Trump settled for a new NAFTA that simply rearranged the typical subject matter of trade agreements.

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Phil Kerpen, a leading free-market policy analyst and advocate in Washington, leads American Commitment. Prior to joining American Commitment, Kerpen was the principal policy and legislative strategist at Americans for Prosperity for over five years.

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