TPP: Fast –Track, the Next Rounds In Congress

The roll call 126-302 vote (Roll call 361) defeating the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill was a result worth a little celebrating on Friday, since it was a very decisive victory on that particular vote, and also stopped the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) fast track bill from being sent to the President’s desk for signature. If the vote on TAA hadn’t failed, it would have been far more difficult (I don’t say impossible as many do) to defeat all manner of “free trade” agreements (aka multinational sovereignty agreements), including the currently scheduled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services (TiSA) agreements over the next year or so.

Everything we know about these agreements is that they would have been a disaster for all but an extremely small segment of the people of the United States. So, we ought to be overjoyed that, for now, fast-track is stalled in the House, and may get pigeon-holed there for quite some time to come, if the re-vote on TAA fails. Still as Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, and Bill Black say in their recent posts, this stall may be short-lived if we don’t keep up the pressure and make sure that the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, along with the President are, unsuccessful in reversing Friday’s vote on the TAA.

Our first job is to defeat the TAA in the House. It is unlikely that things will end there, but if we don’t, then the House’s package created by the Republican leadership, becomes law, including, most importantly, the TPA, will reach the President’s desk where he will, joyfully, sign it.

On the other hand, if the TAA, isn’t approved in the re-vote, then the House is likely to try to work out a compromise with the Senate to align their differing TPA bills and then return the result to each of the Houses for a vote on the compromise. So, first of all, what is the likelihood, that the TAA bill will be approved in the House? And if it is, then what is the likelihood that a compromise bill will be agreed upon in conference committee, and then approved In the House and the Senate?

Likelihood 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. Here are the results of these roll calls. Roll call 361 (the TAA Vote):

For: 126, 86 Republicans, 40 Democrats;

Against: 302, 158 Republicans, 144 Democrats.

Roll call 362 (the TPA vote):

For: 219, 191 Republicans, 28 Democrats;

Against: 211, 54 Republicans, 157 Democrats.

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.

So, what does the TAA/TPP vote mean? From a Republican point of view I think it means that by and large the Republicans in the House hate trade adjustment assistance much more than they like giving the President fast track authority. In fact, they pretty much don’t like that choice either, but since the Republican establishment wanted TPA, a majority of them might have gone along with that if they didn’t have to swallow TAA too, and defy lobby groups, such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action and various talk show hosts, as well as vote against their own ideological aversion to approving welfare programs, which is what TAA is from their point of view.

In addition, TAA, as finally structured in the House bill, had gotten rid of the Medicare cut “pay-for” and replaced it with a tax enforcement and loophole closing one. This, too offended the Republican rank and file members who probably thought of this as a tax increase breaking their promises never to vote for one.

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.

For many of the House Democrats this choice was probably a hard one, because they probably recognize the possibility that Republican challengers against Democratic incumbents will not hesitate to use their vote against TAA against them. But ultimately they probably decided after weighing the comparative political risks that, of the two risks, opposing TAA was far less risky than voting for TPA would have been.

So, why did 86 Republicans and 40 Democrats vote for the TAA/TPA? Well considering all the monied interests pushing the TPA on both sides of the aisle and also that the Republican leadership in the House was 100% in back of the TPA, while the President was constantly lobbying for it, it would have been amazing if there were even fewer votes for TAA/TPA. So, I think the reason why there were as many as 126 votes for the TAA bill, isn’t much of a mystery, and I’ll rest now with these explanations of both the negative and the positive sides of the way both parties voted on roll call 361.

Why Were the Votes So At Variance with Each Other?

So, why was there such a reversal of the vote count in roll call 362 on the question of the TPA itself. First, I think there was probably confusion about this vote. The Republican leadership had let it be known earlier than the vote that it had no intention of going ahead with the TPA if the TAA vote were to fail, because a failure in the TAA vote would render the TPA vote ineffective in sending it to the President’s desk. So, the occurrence of the TPA vote was a surprise that coalitions in neither party were ready for, and also only 5 minutes had been scheduled between the two votes. So suddenly the TPA vote, which was considered meaningless, was thrust upon the members of both parties without them having the chance to be clear about the possible implications of the vote.

Democrats, for their part improved their vote total against the TPA when voting on the clean TPA, gaining 13 votes on their previous 144 people. However, they didn’t reach previously predicted opposition totals of perhaps 164 to 168 against the TPA. Had they done so, TPA would have failed in the House on a close vote of 216 – 218, assuming the Republican opposition would have been constant at 54. So why did Democrats produce 28 votes for the TPA, rather than the 20 – 24 that were the most common predictions?

I think the explanation for this is that, probably, since TPA had already been stalled by the failure of TAA, this second vote didn’t seem as significant to them as the TAA was and some Democrats probably wondered why they had to further anger the Administration by voting down the TPA directly after it had already been blocked. The Republicans, too, probably had a similar motivation. 158 of them had collaborated with 144 Democrats to vote down the hated (by the Republicans) TAA, which vote also blocked TPA, so why did they have to anger their leadership and the various pro-TPA lobbying groups that had already lost over a “meaningless” vote. After all, expression of their anger and resentment was already fulfilled by the TAA vote, so why should they pour it on.

One thing is certain, the TPA vote in the House wasn’t a true test of the relative strength of the pro- and anti – TPA sides in conflict over TPA approval and one can’t project from this second vote to the likely result of a re-vote. In particular, the anti-TPA forces on both sides were not fully focused on this vote and its outcome, since the Democratic leadership was clearly not enforcing discipline as it would have been if this were the decisive vote, especially since this vote was unexpected.

On the other hand, for the pro-TPA forces on the Republican side, there was a tendency to go along with the leadership, since by the very act of scheduling the unexpected vote it was expressing a desire to have that vote and to have most Republicans give them something, even if that something was a small meaningless victory.

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.

They must be thinking, “why did this insufferably arrogant President push these deals for years when most of the Party wanted nothing to do with them, and why has he pushed them at a time when he is no longer vulnerable to voter retaliation while all of them retribution’? They may even be asking: “what right does he have to subject us to this risk of a major new “free trade” agreement, when he is all but a “lame duck” who can no longer help them, but only hurt them if he pursues an agenda that runs counter to the Party’s branding and likely 2016 populist orientation?”

Also, second, comes now Hillary Clinton, who just today responded to the constant calls for her to take a position on the Trade deals. Of course, she straddled the fence to some degree by refusing to declare either for or against the TPP and the other contemplated trade deals. However, she said:

”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” . . . And if we don’t get it, there should be no deal.

This isn’t a complete repudiation of the fast-track legislation, but it is hard to see how the President could respond positively to this statement except by making the TPP and the other deals public, and negotiating their terms with the various stakeholders in Congress and elsewhere who are now opposed to the TPP, and the other deals based on leaked information about them. It is especially hard to see how he could do that without releasing the draft texts of the agreements, since he can hardly work with them if they don’t know what is in these drafts or cannot discuss them with their staffs.

How will this statement by Hillary Clinton affect pro-TPP Democrats in the Clinton wing of the Party on Tuesday? How will people like Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Jim Himes (D-CT), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Scott Peters (D-CA), John Delaney (D-MD), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-Wa); and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) vote for TAA/TPA when there hoped for future leader is providing no support for TPA fast-track and may not have their backs?

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.

Implications If the TPA Goes to a Conference Committee

So, then TPA could not go directly to the President. It would have to go back to square one in the House, or be sent to a Conference Committee, where a compromise bill would be produced. That compromise bill would then face the following pitfalls.

1. To hold the TPA Democrats in both Houses, the compromise bill would have to have more generous Trade Adjustment Assistance than the House came up with.

2. It would also have to have a “pay-for” that did not cut Medicare for House Democrats in order to have them sign on.

3. In addition, it could not “pay for” the TAA with increased taxes, or it would be unacceptable to the Republican rank-and-file in the House.

4. Nor, could it have TAA provisions that would in the least bit soften the impact of coming unemployment for Democratic constituencies, since if it did then House Republicans would likely balk.

So, there is a very fine line to walk between the Senators demanding trade adjustment assistance who are needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and the Republican House members who hate TAA. That’s going to be a tough one to handle.

5. Also, there is the climate issue. Paul Ryan inserted some last minute changes in the Republican customs enforcement bill coming out of the House constraining the President from agreeing to obligating ”the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.” This will make some of the Senators on the Democratic side such as: Ron Wyden (D-OR); Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) very unhappy indeed. On the other hand, not having that kind of constraint in fast-track will make the tea party side in the House equally unhappy.

6. Alongside all of these difficulties, the pro-TPA forces now have to face the obstacle of time. Tuesday is June 16. The President’s time schedule called for TPA to be completed by the end of this month. That is still possible to do, if the bill doesn’t go to a Conference, but if it does, then it is hard to see how the issues discussed above can easily be compromised before recess at the beginning of July, and then our erstwhile representatives in the House and the Senate will have to go home and face their constituents on the issues of the TPA, and the other agreements.

They will have to explain both the noxious content of the agreements that have leaked, and also why the President is insisting on secrecy and on getting the Congress to bias voting in favor of the agreements before they and their staffs have had a full opportunity to deliberate over these agreements with their colleagues, staffs, and the public. These matters won’t be easy for our representatives to explain and they may find themselves encountering fury on the right whipped up by pundits and also very vocal opposition among more progressive constituencies over why Democrats are exposing them to great risks so that the already wealthy can make more money.

Expect the kind of long, hot summer we enjoyed in 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was moving through Congress, except that now there will anger coming from all sides directed at TPA proponents who will undoubtedly explain to us why their determination to do the bidding of the wealthy and powerful must be seen as a demonstration of extraordinary courage and integrity by the rest of us. Long past time for the pitchforks, I’m afraid.

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