Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rob Wittman's Weekly Update

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We, as Americans, consistently recognize the contributions of the many Virginians who played critical roles in the founding of our nation, from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution." It is the example these historical Virginias set and the direction of this governing document that guide me each and every day as I serve the First District in Congress.

The Constitution was a major consideration of mine as Congress recently debated legislation known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a process in which Congress facilitates the development of a trade agreement with foreign nations by granting the president authority to enter into trade negotiations and setting negotiating objectives for those discussions. In short, the idea is that Congress informs the Executive Branch of what it wants to see in any trade agreement, and with these priorities in mind, the president's trade representatives then go and negotiate with foreign nations. Eventually, Congress takes an up-or-down vote on the final agreement before it can be approved.

TPA is a long-term authority that will certainly extend to future presidents, and I thoroughly studied the trade directives set within the bill. My analysis centered on a few overarching questions: Do these directives stand to benefit the American people and our nation's economy? Do the directives enable the U.S. to negotiate from a position of power? Or, on the other hand, are they weak and vague, allowing negotiators to conveniently leave out provisions that are important to industries in Virginia, solely for the sake of finalizing a deal more quickly? After a substantive review, I decided that this particular bill was not a responsible way to bring about a beneficial trade agreement, and I voted against it.

To be clear, I also had concerns about the potential implications of Congress ceding so much authority to the president. And in the days and weeks leading up to the vote on TPA, a significant number of Virginians contacted me to express the same concerns, arguing that TPA would weaken the vital role that Congress plays in the system of checks and balances designed by our founding fathers. Too many industries in Virginia will be affected by the terms of any future trade deals, and I am skeptical of the current administration's ability to negotiate a beneficial agreement.

In the end, TPA was passed by the House and Senate. I do support smart free trade agreements, and I believe that lowering trade barriers effectively is a critical element of growing our economy. As the White House negotiates this trade deal, I will fight to make sure that the voices of Virginians are heard and that the economic interests of our Commonwealth and nation are protected.

The government that our early Virginians helped to establish is dependent on a healthy discourse between the public and its elected representatives. I truly appreciate the substantial feedback I've received from so many of you on this issue. I'm honored to represent a region where citizens are so engaged in the legislative process, and I hope you will all continue to stay in touch.

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