If the largest trade deals in U.S. history have any chance of becoming law, they will require an unusual alliance between the Obama administration and pro-trade Republicans. An emerging consensus is that this union could be tested soon, with the upcoming “lame duck” session of Congress considering a procedural bill called “Trade Promotion Authority” that would smooth both negotiation and congressional consideration of U.S. free trade agreements.
For TPA to pass (now or next year), President Obama and Republicans will need to work together to overcome opposition from Democrats allied with traditional anti-trade groups, like environmentalists and labor unions. But if you ask the media and some on Capitol Hill, these strange pro-trade bedfellows face a new threat: a “Tea Party” caucus that could rebel against the Republican agenda to spite the president or scuttle FTAs. Though it makes for titillating political journalism (and a great scapegoat for a divided Democratic Party), the “Tea Party opposes trade” narrative is a myth that grows from fundamental misunderstandings of who the Tea Party is, how U.S. trade agreements work, and what “free trade” actually means.