Jun 15

Fast Track Ain’t Dead Yet

This past Friday the House of Representatives passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), aka Fast Track, by a slim margin of 219 – 211. It did so without the crucial Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill which failed, massively. The TAA is included in the Senate version of Fast Track and without it Fast Track is dead and so, in all likelihood, is the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP), its European version, Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services (TiSA) agreements.

In an unusual parliamentary maneuver, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) moved to reconsider the TAA in desperate hope that he can convince enough Democrats and Republicans to change their votes. That doesn’t appear to be possible as Joe Firestone, the managing director of New Economic Perspectives, explains:

Likelihood of Approval of TAA (and Consequently TPA/fast-track) In a Re-vote in the HouseLikelihood of Approval of TAA (and Consequently TPA/fast-track) In a Re-vote in the House

I’ve read every post-mortem on Friday’s TPA result I could find since Friday’s TAA vote. And while there’s a lot of speculation on what will happen if there is a re-vote of TAA on Tuesday, very little of the analysis seems to depart from an explanation of the actual roll call results of roll calls 361 and 362 by Party. [..]

Since, on Friday, the TAA was perceived as the key vote on both the TAA and the TPA, why was roll call 361 so decisively against both, while roll call 362, on the TPA alone was narrowly in favor of the TPA? In other words, why were these votes so at variance with each other? No post-mortem I’ve seen has really considered this carefully, and tried to explain it. But plainly, one’s explanation has to be the foundation for projecting how any re-vote in the House on the TAA/TPA is likely to come out. [..]

In short, even though the mainstream view of the maximum limit of Republican opposition to the TPA was 57, roll call 361 shows 158 Republican votes against it, an entirely unexpected result showing that the Republican leadership has lost touch with their members when it comes to gauging the extent of their resentment against leadership attempts to force trade adjustment benefits and a small tax increase down their throats for the sake of the interests of Wall Street and the multinationals. Republicans might generally support corporations and view small business as one of their important constituencies, but that doesn’t mean they love foreign multinationals and the lemon socialism they are bringing to the table.

On the Democratic side, the Party’s traditional support for trade adjustment assistance was overcome with 144 votes against, because Democrats realized that a vote for the TAA was a vote for the TPA, and the vast majority of them were against that passionately. Not just out of principle, but because 1) Democratic leadership was obviously divided on the issue with the Administration wanting it badly; 2) the formal leaders in the Houses were seemingly neutral, and many other influential Democrats, as well as the rank and file strongly against it; 3) the Democratic Party in the House was probably recognizing that the Administration had lost them the key election of 2010, and made them weaker in 2012 and 2014 then they otherwise would have been, with its insistence on passing and supporting a neo-liberal health care “reform” bill, bailing out the health care insurers, that couldn’t possibly begin to be effective until 2015; 4) the Administration had tried to lead them down a primrose path of more electoral failure with its failed “Grand Bargain” effort to cut the entitlements so important to Democratic constituencies and the identity of the Party; 5) the Administration’s determined effort to pass the potentially very unpopular package of the TPA, followed by the TPP, TTIP, and TiSA agreements would very likely also seriously erode their electoral support with their core constituencies; and 6) in the end, most of the Democratic members may have realized that there was no percentage in them voting against their own perceived interests for the sake of the President’s “legacy” and may, just perhaps, even gotten very angry over being asked to secure this legacy over their potentially very dead political bodies, in return for a TAA bill that would provide some $463 million in such assistance to be divided among a likely one million people and very possibly many more, that projections seemed to show would be put out of work by the contemplated trade agreements. Such Democrats might be forgiven for thinking that an attempt to buy them off with an average of $463 per unemployed person was not a very handsome offer from those wanting to pass the TPA and the subsequent likely trade agreements. [..]

Implications of the Explanations for a Re-vote

I think the explanations suggest that the likely result of any re-vote on the TAA will be similar to the first vote for a number of reasons. First, for Democrats, their will be resentment over the fact that the Republican leadership, with the obvious encouragement of the President isn’t respecting the decision taken by the House on Friday, and is trying to make them go on the record again in rejecting their TPA program. I think they will view this as adding insult to the injury that the Administration has done them by putting them in the position of having to vote on these trade issues in the face of their obvious desire to forget about NAFTA-like trade agreements that have already caused the Party so much grief in the past. [..]

With Pelosi, now publicly on the anti-TPA side and Clinton certainly tending toward that definite position, how many of the 40 Democrats who voted for TAA/TPA will stick with their position? What’s in it for them to support their lame duck president, while remaining in seeming disagreement with their most likely choice for the top of their ticket in 2016? Anyone for those 40 Democrats suddenly becoming 20, or even 5 or 6, come Tuesday?

And on the Republican side, with 158 of them in opposition to the TAA/TPA on Friday, and 54 of them still in opposition to the TPA even when they had a chance to vote on a clean TPA bill which was purely symbolic and did not require them to vote for the hated TAA “welfare,” how many of them do you suppose will now vote for TAA/TPA on the re-vote? They too, will be angry at Boehner and Ryan for making them vote again on the combined TAA/TPP.

So why would that initial 158 Republican votes in opposition suddenly be less than in the first TAA vote? And even if were, and that number fell to say 146 or so in opposition, which is the other side of the coin of Boehner’s statement that he doesn’t think he can produce more than 100 votes for the TAA in the re-vote, even if there still were 20 Democrats who remain in support of TAA, then we would still have 146 Republicans + 168 Democrats or so against the TAA on Tuesday, a vote of 314 against and, at most, 120 votes for.

At Salon, lapsed blogger David Dayen points out the hurdles the GOP leadership must jump to get this to the president’s desk. The options aren’t good:

   Pass TAA on a re-vote. Speaker John Boehner set this up for a vote next week, where they will try to persuade more Democrats and Republicans. Republican support topped out at 93 (votes started moving away from TAA once it was clear it wouldn’t pass), meaning that 124 Democrats would need to give their support. That’s a very tall order, especially now that it’s clearly the only thing standing between the President and his trade authority. Democratic groups, which demanded a no vote on TAA, will surely continue to whip the vote on their side.

   Pass a separate standalone fast track bill. Just the threat of this, leaving Democrats with the President’s trade authority in place and no TAA, might be enough to get TAA passed. But it shouldn’t be. Just because 219 members voted for fast track on a meaningless vote today doesn’t mean they would be there on a standalone vote. Also, there is no way the Senate would concur on a fast-track trade bill without TAA: that would lose too many Democratic votes to pass. So this seems like an idle threat. Mitch McConnell could pass fast track with a promise to pass TAA later, but he’s already done that gambit once, getting fast track forward with a promise of a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That promise has been broken, and there’s no reason for Senators to believe McConnell again.

   Make changes to TAA or fast track to get enough Democrats on board: This is what Pelosi was intimating, but it’s hard to see how that could plausibly occur. They would have to get any changes agreed to by the House and the Senate, which opens the process up to a lot of messiness. And even if all the issues with TAA were dispensed with – no paying for the assistance with Medicare cuts, no exemptions for public employees, etc. – the bill has now become the impediment to more corporate-written trade deals that set regulatory caps and facilitate job loss, and liberal Democrats know it. As Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told the Huffington Post, “You can’t take the politics out of politics.”

   Give Democrats something they want: Nancy Pelosi’s Dear Colleague letter makes this clear: “The prospects for passage (of fast track) will greatly increase with the passage of a robust highway bill.” This means that, if Republicans vote for more infrastructure spending, Pelosi would be likely to supply the votes for trade. But it’s not clear whether this is coming from Pelosi only, or if it would have buy-in from her caucus. She might be making a deal her caucus hasn’t empowered her to make. Plus, that would involve Republicans in the House and Senate agreeing to fund more infrastructure, and nobody knows where the money would come from.

Now add to the mix, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton finally addressed the issue:

“The president should listen to and work with his allies in Congress starting with Nancy Pelosi, who have expressed their concerns about the impact that a weak agreement would have on our workers to make sure we get the best strongest deal possible,” she said. “And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.” [..]

Clinton said a final deal must protect American jobs, raise American workers’ wages and protect American national security interests.

“The president actually has this amazing opportunity now,” the Democratic presidential candidate said. “Let’s take the lemons and turn it into lemonade.”

Not as decisive as some would like but clear enough.

The fight to Stop Fast Track and these non-trade agreements is not over by a long shot. We need all hands on deck today and tomorrow before the vote.

There is no time to waste, do this NOW. Call and tell your representative to vote no on these bills.

1 comment

    • TMC on June 15, 2015 at 8:59 pm
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