TPP: Will Voters Re-elect Laughing Stocks to the Senate?

Let’s review the devious process for passing the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill devised by the Republicans I outlined in my last post. It has the following steps:

– Step one: the House passes a TPA bill without passing Trade Adjustments Assistance (TAA); then

– Step two: the Republicans in the Senate give assurances to Senate Democrats that TAA will be passed by the Senate and later the House;

– Step three: the Senate then passes the House’s TPA bill, and then sends it to the President; then

– Step four: the Senate passes an amendment to another piece of legislation (not clear yet whether the plan will use the Trade Preferences bill, or the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and incorporate TAA in one of those); then

– Step five: the House passes TAA with the help of Democrats, because once TPA is passed Democrats will have no incentive to vote against TAA.

Step one’s done now. A TPA bill without Trade Adjustment Assistance passed the House 218 – 208 on Thursday, sending the bill on to the Senate. In order to complete steps two – three, Mitch McConnell is promising the 14 Democratic Senators who voted for cloture on the TPA bill in May, that he will pass a bill re-authorizing the Ex – Im Bank, a measure empowering the Commerce Department to take retaliatory action against nations that violate trade rules, and also will immediately pass a TAA amendment to a trade preferences bill, so the Democratic Senators can say that they passed protections for workers who lose their jobs as an eventual consequence of the TPA whose passage they are supporting.

Of course, even if McConnell follows through with the promise of passage of the TAA (step four) that he probably has the means to fulfill, his and the President’s assurances that the Republicans in the House will fulfill their part of bargain, enabling Democrats to complete step five, passing TAA in the House, depend both on Speaker John Boehner’s cooperation and his ability to deliver 30 – 40 Republican votes for TAA, a program Republicans view as “welfare.”

A TAA package did get 86 Republican votes in the House in the failed roll call vote that was tied to the first TPA package in the House. But that total for TAA was delivered under pressure from the leadership to pass the TPA package. Sadly for the 14 defecting Democrats, neither McConnell, nor both together, can guarantee the delivery of that many Republican House votes for TAA, or even the necessary 30 – 40, once the TPA is passed.

After all, what would be the remaining Republican incentive to provide those votes? To protect the honor of McConnell, Boehner, and the President? To ensure that the 14 Senate Democrats don’t turn on the trade deals and vote “no” on the up or down votes on “free trade” left to them after the TPA is passed?

Even more to the point, where do the incentives of the two Republican leaders lie, once they have the TPA in hand for their neoliberal President, who they pretend to disagree so vehemently with? From my point of view, they lie in maximizing the chances for a Republican Senate victory in 2016.

One of the primary barriers in the way of such a victory, however, is the electoral map in the Senate elections of 2016. Current expectations are that 24 Republican and 10 Democratic seats will be up for election, a map heavily weighted against Republicans. The odds of the Republicans retaining control of the Senate and Mitch McConnell continuing as the Senate Majority Leader, undoubtedly one his very fondest wishes, would be increased if, through his actions he could enable the defeat of the three Democratic Senators among the 14 trade defectors who are running for re-election in 2016.

These Senators are Patty Murray (D-WA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Bennet is the shakiest of the three in re-election prospects. But all three would have their re-election chances hurt if Republicans broke faith with them and did not pass the TAA bill, after they supported it by voting for cloture, and then just trusted the Republicans to pass the TAA, rather than requiring its simultaneous passage as a necessary part of any TAA package.

Such a turn of events would make them look like naive fools. They would be viewed as laughing stocks by many of their constituents in 2016.

Will voters re-elect Senators who have become laughing stocks? That will be the question faced by Murray, Bennet, and Wyden if they vote for the TPA without TAA in the same bill.

If the Republicans do break faith with the defecting Democrats, these three will have about 16 months to live down their reputations as laughing stocks. Is 16 months enough time? I guess they’ll find out if they decide to trust Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the guys who vowed to ruin Barack Obama’s presidency, and are now helping him finish the job by so vigorously supporting his efforts to pass his disastrous trade deals.

And, by the way, 9 of the remaining 11 in the group of 14, with the exception of Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will have to find out whether even 40 months is enough time, if they too, go ahead with voting for the TPA bill without TAA being part of it.

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