In a previous post, I discussed the likelihood that the Fast-Track bill, if it passed the House, would need to return to the Senate again to align the different bills produced by the two Houses. I focused on the importance of Fast-Track/TPP opponents preparing for that return by building the opposition into a movement exerting continuous pressure on Senators to expand the size of the opposition to the bill in both parties.
I also pointed out that an emerging movement should be emphasizing the governance impact of Fast-Track/TPP on national, state, and local sovereignty, separation of powers, consent of the governed and democracy, more than the many other TPP issues that have emerged. In my view, the governance issues are the winning issues against the Fast-Track/TPP initiative for a number of reasons.
This is so because they cut against the beliefs that 1) the people, ought in the final analysis to rule; 2) the independence of the United States is, above all, to be treasured and ought not to be subordinated to corporations and big money; and 3) the United States is an exceptional nation, in part because its governance institutions, with all their warts are still superior to all others on earth.
Of course, the Fast-Track bill may never return to the Senate in any form because it may be defeated in the House. So, now I’ll turn to assessing the state of play in that body at this point.
Political commentators have always thought that the President would have a tougher time passing Fast-Track/TPP in the House than in the Senate. That opinion, still widespread, may well be correct. At this date Republican leadership in the House isn’t scheduling any votes on Fast-Track yet, and current projections are holding out hope that a vote may occur between the second and last week in June. This is a change from just a few days ago (May 26) when they hoped to move all 4 pending trade bills on the same day.
According to Politico, that’s an indication that the Administration can’t count on the 217 votes needed to pass Fast-Track. There are 245 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House. Perhaps as many as 40 – 57 Republicans are opposed to Fast-Track, depending on which side you’ on. On the other hand, supporters of the bill reportedly can’t count on more than 17 Democrats to vote for it at this date, and no more than 20 after all the maneuvering and politicking has occurred.
If the Republican opposition ends up at 45, and Democratic support ends up at 20, then the supporters will have 220 and the opposition 213, and Fast-Track will pass. However, observers differ widely on how Republican opposition will divide with Paul Ryan claiming that Republican “hard nos” will be at 40-45, while others think the opposition could go as high as 57. If Ryan is wrong and the Republican opposition rises to 50, then, if the Democrats in support stay at 20, the opposition to Fast-Track will win with a 218 – 213 vote.
So, what are the primary forces at play that are likely to shape the final vote? First, at this date the Democratic leadership in the House: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn are said to be uncommitted about Fast-Track (but see just below). This means that the widespread Democratic opposition to the TPP in the House hasn’t come from the leaders, but is much more motivated from the bottom-up.
The leaders are cross-pressured. Pelosi has never liked voting against the President. Hoyer is a Clinton third-way Democrat whose natural inclination has generally been to support bills that claim to be for “free trade.” And Clyburn has been among the most loyal of Democrats to the President.
On the other side, however, Democrats outside the top leadership led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Rosa DeLauro organized some time ago and got 151 Democrats, including Clyburn, to sign a letter telling the President that they would not vote for Fast-Track. In addition, Chris Van Hollen, a very important rising young Democrat, who is running for the Senate seat from Maryland, along with progressive letter signator Donna Edwards, held now by the retiring Barbara Mikulski, has announced his opposition to Fast-Track/TPP.
Outside the House Leadership and their heir apparents, Labor has also taken a very strong position delivering explicit threats to Democrats about primarying those who end up supporting Fast-Track/TPP and also opposing them in general elections. Also, the progressive base of the Party has been very active in condemning TPP using its various outlets including social media.
All this, is leaving wavering Democrats and the Leadership with little room for maneuver. If the leadership defects from the base and the overwhelming majority of House Democrats on Fast/Track TPP it will be a very visible defection accompanied by an emotional reaction that perhaps will be strong enough to jeopardize the continuing leadership position of Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In fact, if they vote for Fast/Track TPP it’s hard to see how a lame duck president will be enough to sustain them against a rank and file challenge.
Second, apart from the overwhelming commitment against Fast-Track by most of the Democrats in the House and by labor and the active base of the Democratic Party, another force that will shape the final vote is campaign money flowing into undecided or wavering Democrats. We’ve seen that https://www.popularresistance.org/how-much-did-corporations-pay-to-get-senate-to-pass-fast-track/ in the Senate where huge contributions flowed into a few undecided people up for re-election to ensure that they would support Fast-Track. The same thing will happen in the House, in a last ditch effort, to get that number of Democrats from 17 to 25.
John Boehner would love a bit of the fig leaf of bipartisanship for the efforts of his Republicans and himself to pass Fast- Track/TPP. And the President plus 25 other Democrats is a bit bigger fig leaf than only 17 other Democrats.
In addition, every Democratic vote he gets makes it less necessary for him to hold Republican votes against Fast-Track to 40-45, reducing the pressure within his caucus. So, expect to see corporate funding going to some House Democrats in the last phase of this struggle.
Third, a very important factor in shaping the Fast-Track/TPP vote in the House will be “thunder on the right.” The as many as 57 Republicans in opposition will be under strong pressures from big corporate money and Paul Ryan and the Republican Leadership on the one hand, and the tea party/right wing commentators and Party base institutions that have made it a religion to oppose Obama, and to revere undiluted American sovereignty and exceptionalism on the other. Opposition to the TPP on the right includes: Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Mark Levin, Lou Dobbs, Phyllis Schlafly, Donald Trump, Dick Morris, The American Family Association, and The Eagle Forum.
Most of the “hard nos” and leaning “nos” on the Republican side dislike Boehner, hate Obama, and have been elected with the help of the right wing radio machine and tea party activist infrastructure. Those anti-TPP forces will be cross-pressured by Wall Street money and their communications and institutional infrastructure. I can’t know how those cross-pressures will be played out. But, I suspect, how that is settled, along with how solidly the Democratic opposition can hold on will have a large role in determining whether the TPP opponents or supporters are looking a victory or a close defeat.
Fourth, the last important factor in determining the Fast-Track result in the House is, in my view, the messaging we will see over the next few weeks. I’m hoping that messaging will focus on the sovereignty, separation of powers, democracy, and consent of the governed usurpations in the TPP; but I wonder if that is the way it will go down.
How far will this meme go? I know that TPP supporters will deny the “treason” charge and call it “21st Century McCarthyism.” And then they will go on to create a great distraction from debating the core issues I’ve mentioned, in which they will adopt the pose of the outraged victim and proceed to drag the TPP debate down in a spiral of name-calling media entertainment that turns off the broader public, and leaves supporters free to avoid the concrete issues of what the TPP will actually do to democracy, Federalism, and the rest, and to vote the way their corporate funders want them to.
So, I think what we ought to do from here on out if we want to win this fight is to forget yelling “treason” and hammer home the message that voting for Fast-Track/TPP, is voting to subordinate American Governance institutions, including Federalism, the Congress, and our Courts to the decisions of the foreign power embodied in the ISDS tribunals envisioned in the TPP. And further that engineering such a vote through a political process relying on secrecy that fails to seek and secure the consent of the governed in signing away the right of their government, accountable to them, to make key decisions that will determine their futures is completely out of bounds of any legitimate political process we use to govern ourselves. These things alone should be enough to defeat Fast Track/TPP
The fight against Fast Track/TPP is a fight for all of our futures. It is not the only such fight. There will be many more as global elites try harder and harder to make the world safe for plutocracy and oligarchy, and dangerous for democracy. Nevertheless, it is the most important fight we will have to make this year. And it is a fight we must win. So let’s do all we can to spread the message that the TPP is a national sovereignty and democracy-killer that we must not let happen and that those voting for it deserve to be thrown out of office in the next election for voting against the Constitution and the people!