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Like Zika, other major unfinished business as Congress left for summer is TPP

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Anyone paying attention to Florida politics right now knows that Congress is on summer recess until Labor Day.

We know this because we are constantly being reminded by Democratic politicians that Congress broke for six weeks without passing a Zika funding bill.

While Zika is the current football being passed to and fro in our politics, it is worth noting that Congress adjourned without passing another piece of legislation with big, long- and short-term consequences: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, known as TPP.

Last fall, Congress narrowly approved the trade promotion authority (TPA) needed for President Obama to negotiate TPP and bring it back before Congress for an up-or-down vote. TPA/TPP are the rare issues that are truly bipartisan; Democrats are Republicans were almost equally divided on the bills’ merits.

This division is on acute display among Florida members of Congress in tough elections. To wit, Rep. Patrick Murphy, generally considered the type of New Democrat amenable to a free-trade agreement. Murphy voted against TPA while facing a then-strong challenge from liberal wife beater, Alan Grayson. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, in a tough re-election fight to hold the seat he took from Joe Garcia in 2014, was whipped by leadership to vote for TPA, but was a late decider and might well have voted “nay” had the Speaker not needed his vote.

Both are considered “swing” votes on the passage of TPP, whenever that vote ultimately occurs (at this point likely in the “lame duck” Congress, post elections).

Despite their equal and opposite votes and political pickles on TPA/TPP, Murphy and Curbelo forged bipartisan consensus on some of their shared concerns over the law’s passage. As FloridaPolitics.com previously reported, the two young members from South Florida jointly penned a July 10, 2015, letter to Ambassador Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative, urging a fair resolution to a dispute between a Jacksonville-based company and an Australian bank, over an obscure Australian law*.

They implored Froman to give his “full attention” to the “serious and valid concerns” expressed in their letter. In doing so they gave voice to reservations about TPP from both parties, forcing members to pose the question, “if an existing trading partner and ally, like Australia, can cause such undue harm to a U.S. business interest, what do we have to fear from less established international actors who would be included in this new, broader trade pact?”

(*APR Energy, in Jacksonville, leased tens of millions of dollars in power generation equipment to an Australian utility that subsequently went bankrupt. Because of Australia’s ironically named “Personal Properties and Securities Act” (PPSA), APR’s equipment was summarily seized by the receiver, ANZ Bank and is currently being essentially leased back to APR after they posted a $60 million USD guarantee with the bank.)

Murphy and Curbelo sent that letter nearly a year ago, but its message is beginning to resonate.

Republican Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia seized on the issue in a speech on the House floor in late July. Mooney called the APR/ANZ dispute an “injustice” and the PPSA an “unfair and inequitable law … contrary to the basic right to own and possess private property guaranteed under the U.S. constitution.” He goes on to say that “laws like [PPSA] should make it very difficult for any member of congress to vote for [TPP].”

Curbelo, for his part, weighed back in a day after Mooney, concurring with him that, “[PPSA] is contrary to the elemental right to own and conduct international business, as well as due process and equal treatment.” He reiterates his support for TPP as a potentially “powerful policy for America’s economy” but cautions the need to address “policies and practices [like PPSA] that give trade a bad name.”

As Congress enters week five (six? seven?) of its long, hot, summer break, Zika funding remains unpassed, as does TPP, and a Florida company continues to pay for the privilege of possessing its own private property. At some point, even Florida gets cool enough to kill off the mosquitoes of summer. Unanswered is, in the absence of a resolution between APR and ANZ, will the PPSA kill TPP or will TPP allow the PPSA to kill American jobs and investment?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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