TPP: 13 Democratic Senators Invite Republicans to Make Them Laughing Stocks and More Serious Matters

The cloture vote in the Senate is now done, making the TPA vote itself a mere formality. The vote was 60 – 37 in favor of cloture with 13 of the 14 original Democratic defectors (Ben Cardin was the exception) sticking with the multinational corporations, the President, and all but five of the Republicans in supporting cloture. Supporters of cloture celebrated the bipartisan nature of the vote, as if Americans who lose their jobs and their sovereignty as a consequence of it, and the things it enables, will look more favorably on what they did because both major parties did it.

Meanwhile, three of the five steps in the process for passing the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill devised by the Republicans are virtually complete. The remaining steps now defined by McConnell are:

After the Senate votes Wednesday on final passage for fast-track, it will take a procedural vote on a package that includes TAA and trade preferences for African countries known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

McConnell has promised both bills, as well as a customs and enforcement bill favored by Democrats, will reach Obama’s desk by the end of the week.

“If we all keep working together and trusting each other, then by the end of the week the President will have TPA, TAA and AGOA and Preferences on his desk — with Customs in the process of heading his way too,”

he said on the floor.

This remaining process includes the final step of the House passing TAA with the overwhelming support of Democrats, added to about 30 – 40 Republicans, because, it is assumed, probably correctly, that once TPA is passed, then Democrats will have every incentive to vote for TAA, while Boehner will be able to supply the remainder of the votes needed to pass it and keep the McConnell/Boehner commitments to the House and Senate Democratic defectors.

This last step, however, isn’t guaranteed to happen in the House. A TAA package received 86 Republican votes in the House in the failed roll call vote that was tied to the first TPA package. But that total for TAA was delivered under pressure from the leadership to pass the TPA package.

Sadly for the 13 defecting Democrats, even if McConnell delivers on his promise of Senate performance this week, then John Boehner may not be able to deliver the 30-40 Republican House votes for the new trade preferences package from the Senate including TAA, using only the incentives of protecting the honor of McConnell, Boehner, and the President, and ensuring that the 13 Senate Democrats don’t turn on the trade deals, and vote “no” on the up or down votes on “free trade” left to them later on, after the TPA bill becomes law.

Even more to the point, the incentives of Republican leaders, once they have the TPA in hand for their neoliberal President, who they pretend to disagree so vehemently with, lie in maximizing the chances for a Republican Senate victory in 2016. A big help in achieving that outcome would be the defeat of Patty Murray (D-WA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). So, I still think the 13 Democrats, and especially the three immediately vulnerable ones in 2016, who voted for the TPA bill, have invited the Republicans to make them laughing stocks, seen as naive and incompetent by their constituents for their decision to “trust” the Republicans.

All that said, the impact of their poorly evaluated decision is broad.

First, these Democrats, and the Republicans who voted with them, have now made it much more difficult for the TPP, the TTIP, the TiSA, and other “trade deals” that may be hatched by Obama’s plutocrats over the next 6 years to be defeated in the Senate, because there can be no resort to the filibuster, and amendments to change or block harmful deals that the President negotiates.

Second, the immediate implications for the TPP itself are that it will be extremely difficult to block its passage with “no” votes in the Senate. Among the 54 Republicans, Senators Sessions, Shelby, Collins, Paul, Lee, and Cruz, seem to be no votes on the TPP, while 48 Republicans seem committed to it. Among the Democrats 33 seem to be no votes, while 13 are for it. If the Republican opposition doesn’t increase in number, then 12 of the 13 Democratic “yes” votes would have to change to “no” votes to defeat it. So, without help from a number of additional Republicans, it will be very difficult to get enough Democrats to shift to defeat the TPP in the Senate.

Defeating it in the House may be easier, however. Since the House is much more subject to short-term political currents including pressure from a movement than is the Senate.

Third, it would take the development of a ferocious movement in opposition to trade deals to motivate enough additional Democrats and Republicans to shift that many votes in the Senate, while in the House such a movement would make it much easier than it is now to shift the 15 votes or so that would probably bring a victory there. And if there is any hope of doing that, it will lie in the impact of public disclosure of the TPP agreement, which will occur when the TPP is introduced in Congress, and also in the extent to which the opposition movement can educate people about the TPP and its likely consequences in enough numbers to fuel enough of a negative reaction to get people in both Houses to change their votes.

To develop such a movement, the anti -TPP movement has to be undeterred by its first round defeat and by the new difficulties it faces in the Senate. There is no time to waste. The effort must be unflagging. It must be smarter than it has been so far, and it must develop a campaign and messaging that forces mainstream politicians running for the presidency into the fray on the side of the anti-TPP movement.

I’m not so much worried about the motivation of the anti-TPP effort as I am about its opposition campaign and messaging. I believe that the first rounds of the fight against these trade deals involved a significant error by the anti-TPP forces. From the beginning, much of the outrage against the TPP has been focused on its anti-labor, anti-worker, anti-manufacturing aspects.

I agree that these are important and should continue to be messaged. But, this cluster of issues isn’t important enough to enough people to organize and coordinate a movement of movements that can unify all streams of opposition to these trade deals. What’s needed for a successful opposition campaign is an organizing theme that can encompass all the objections normally lodged against the substance of the TPP including the impacts Labor has been focused on.

I think this theme should be the TPP’s infringement on Federal, State, and Local government sovereignty constraining policy space at every level of government to those policies that would not interfere with the expectations of profits of multinational corporations. Jobs, environmental, climate change, net neutrality, universal health care, minimum wage, constitutional issues, labor issues, regulatory issues, and many other foreseeable impacts of the TPP are all encompassed by this overall organizing theme.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of Americans care deeply about sovereignty issues. That concern is shared by all strands of TPP opposition, both radical and mainstream. TPP opposition can be wrapped in the flag.

The claim that the anti-TPP forces want to turn the world over to China and India by allowing them to dictate the terms of trade, can be opposed by the more truthful counter-claim that the TPP, in constraining American policy space, while leaving China and India free and with the continuing ability to use their unconstrained policy space to adjust to dynamic trends in trade, is actually turning the future to China, India, and other major powers that will not submit to the constraints in policy space inherent in American trade deals.

The theme of constrained policy space due to the ability of private corporate-courts to fine our government for Federal, State, and local policies they believe disturb the expectations of profits of particular multinationals, can easily be illustrated with all sorts of examples. For example, if the people of the United States elected a President who wanted to enact enhanced Medicare for All, then could the international tribunals deprived of business by such a decision collect from the US government for lost profits?

What if a local government raised the miniumum wage from $7.25 to $15.00, per hour would such “courts” be able to award subsidies to the multinationals who would now have to increase their wages to that level? What if the local governments mandated that corporations operating within a local jurisdiction has to provide a full package of fringe benefits to all their workers? Would that make the US financially liable for those costs?

And on and on. Use your imaginations, can you think of any government legislation of consequence that wouldn’t impact some multinational’s expectation of profits, and consequently make the US subject to fines?

Playing this game of hypotheticals has been attacked by TPP proponents as engaging in fantasy. But what is the rule in the TPP agreement that would exclude any impact we can think of from the purview of these private courts?

Until we have such a rule that can make clear the limits of the constraints on US sovereignty inherent in the TPP and a procedure for adjudicating these limits that is independent of the discretion of the private courts themselves, we would not even know what the limits of the policy constraints being imposed on the US by the TPP are. And until we do know what these limits are, we cannot say for sure that there are any substance objections of the TPP, from adjustments to negative job impacts to adjustments to climate change impacts and everything in between, that won’t fit into the general objection of constraints on sovereignty and government policy space. And that’s why I think the sovereignty issue should be the overarching theme that unites us all in opposition to the TPP.

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