TPP: Fast –Track Is Back: Shall It Pass?
Well, that didn't take too long. The wonks in White House, the Republican Leadership. And the “free trade” Democrats, have hatched another devious process for passing the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill. 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 bill (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.
Under this plan, they say, the President and the Republicans get what they want, and so do the free trade Democrats (as without their saying it do the funders of both parties). In addition, the free trade Democrats have the TAA fig leaf they believe they need to defend them against primary challengers and Republicans who may run against them saying that the sold out American workers and national sovereignty to foreigners.
Sounds wonderful, doesn't It? But here are the process problems with it.
Step one assumes that a clean TPA bill can pass the House. Proponents of this step assume that this will happen because 191 Republicans and 28 Democrats, a total of 219 members of the House, passed such a bill last Friday, June 12th, while 54 Republicans and 157 Democrats, or 211 members voted to defeat it.
What those who claim that this previous vote is a strong indicator of what a new vote on TPA sans any formal tie would bring don't mention, is that: 1) the TPA vote on Friday came after the defeat of a TAA bill whose passage was necessary for passage of the TPA to be effective in moving both pieces of legislation to the President, so for many of the people who voted for the TPA on that occasion, that vote must have seemed to be a throwaway; and 2) the successful TPA vote occurred five minutes after the TAA defeat, with the anti-TPA forces in both parties jubilant, and probably not focusing fully on the TPA vote and its implications, or whipping for the anti-TPA side.
To assess the likely difficulties of winning a TPA vote now, I think one has to consider that even on what was thought be a vote that was purely symbolic and much more of a party line vote, at least for Republicans, there were still 54 Republicans who voted against the TPA bill. In addition, even though, the upcoming new vote for the de-coupled TPA is formally totally unrelated to TAA legislation, everyone on the tea party anti-TPA side will still know, or will be told by tomorrow morning, that a vote for the new TPA is also a vote that will enable the TAA to pass, and is in that sense also a vote for TAA, so that those who vote for the TPA can still be charged with failing to vote to defeat the TAA, even if they go on record against the TAA when it gets back to the House, assuming that the Senate passes the new TAA projected in the story the Leaders are telling.
So, how important can the de-coupling fig leaf be for the Republican tea partiers? Will Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Heritage Political Action, Jeff Sessions, and Breitbart, give the tea partiers who vote for the TPA a pass and refrain from primarying “the traitors" next spring? I'm sorry, but I doubt that.
So, I'm thinking that there's a good chance that the Republican vote against the TPA in a vote that counts will turn out to be somewhere between the 54 Republicans previously recorded against the TPA, and the 158 previously recorded against the TAA in that vote last Friday. Even if the 158 falls to 75 Republicans that would still mean a gain of 21 votes for the anti-TPA forces over the earlier TPA House roll call.
On the Democratic side, last Friday, 40 Democrats, first voted for the TAA, and 28 then voted for the TPA. That 28 total was a mild surprise, since pre-vote expectations were between 22 and 25, which would have either caused the TPA to fail, or its margin of victory to have been even more razor thin on Friday than it was. So, what would a new vote on the TPA produce?
First, I think the 40 votes for the TAA are not a good indicator of support for a standalone TPA, because there was plenty of evidence during the first vote on Friday that all potential votes against the TAA would not be needed by Democrats to defeat TPA on that day. So, for those Democrats who didn't want to be recorded against TAA at all, there was no reason for them to take that risk if they were uncomfortable about it. So, the Democrats could afford to lose those votes because there was a Republican stampede against the TAA, due to the extent of tea party lobbying against it.
Second, I also don't think that the 28 House Democratic votes on Friday are a good indicator of what Democrats will produce for the President tomorrow, because all 28 Democrats who voted for the TPA were not needed to defeat it then, since from their point of view the TAA vote had already defeated it. The Democrats, in other words, could soften the blow of the TAA vote to their President by seeing to to it that Democratic votes were not enough to defeat the TPA roll call itself.
I think these considerations suggest that the expectation that the 219 – 211 TPA vote last Friday is a good indicator of what will happen in the new vote, reportedly expected tomorrow, may well be mistaken. When it really counts and every possible Democratic vote is needed to defeat the TPA, those votes may prove to be there and the Democratic vote for the TPA may shrink to the 20 – 23 range expected last week or even lower.
Third, this view is reinforced by Hillary Clinton's attempting to distance herself from the pro-TPA forces last weekend. Of course, she didn't directly say she was opposed to TPA, but she did endorse Nancy Pelosi's stated view that “fast-track” ought to be slowed down until we know more about what's in the various trade deals it would enable, and, in context, this is material opposition to the President's views on TPA and the views of its supporters. Hillary, also knows very well, that if fast-track is slowed in response to her call, and consideration of it kicks over into this summer, that this delay might very well kill TPA, since foreign nations may drop negotiations if they believe that the President cannot deliver on TPA and that, consequently, the trade deals being negotiated would have to bring Congress into the negotiations process.
If other nations back off the trade deals response to this perceived prospect then all three trade deals would be dead for the near future, and Hillary Clinton would not have to worry about them. And, also, there is evidence that Hillary Clinton is worried about them as a political issue, and would just like them to go away for awhile. In fact, with her polling numbers falling and Berne Sanders pressing her to declare a position on the trade deal, I think we can well believe the view that an intense wish of her campaign right now is that trade issues go away without further ado.
But who can make that happen for her? I think it is the “free trade” Democrats; people like Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jim Himes, Kathleen Rice, Earl Blumenauer, Gregory Meeks, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The 28 Democrats involved are Obama Democrats, of course. But they are as much Clinton Democrats, and Obama is their past, while Clinton is their future in the Democratic Party, if they have one. So, they must be dismayed to see her poll numbers falling, and if they believe that their making the trade deals go away will help her, then I think that will weigh in their TPA vote tomorrow or the day after.
Step two seems to assume that the Senate “free trade” Democrats will trust the assurances they get from Senate Republicans even though no TAA provision is in the TPA bill. Some of the 14 Senate Democrats involved may accept such assurances as made in good faith. But they may doubt the capability of Senator McConnell to ensure that they get their TAA fig leaf. And, if they don't get it, will people like Tim Kaine, Michael Bennet, Patty Murray, Chris Coons, and Ron Wyden, running in 2016, be able to explain why they trusted Republican assurances and left workers without protection against negative trade impacts?
Step three assumes that most of the Senate free trade Democrats will not defect over the lack of the TAA, but 1) the Democrats have received assurances about passage of legislation renewing the Ex-Im bank, and that has not yet been forthcoming due to opposition in the House and Mitch McConnell not scheduling a vote in the Senate, and 2) TAA support was just defeated in the House where 158 Republicans opposed it with TPA on the line, so “free trade” Senate Democrats may be forgiven for perhaps thinking that once TPA is passed, there may be many more Republican votes against TAA despite Boehner's guarantees that he can get it passed so Democratic Senators can have their fig leaf.
Step four will probably work in the Senate; but again, there is no guarantee except Boehner's that if it works in the Senate, then the House will follow through on Boehner's guarantee by completing step five. The Senate Democrats, even if they trusted Boehner, would have to risk that he can keep control of enough of his caucus to command the 30 votes that would have to be added to the Democrats 188 to get a majority for TAA at that point and deliver on his guarantee.
And if they did risk that and win, then what they would gain would be the enmity of progressive Democrats, Labor, as well as months of controversy while the Democrats fight for a “no” vote on TPP and the other trade deals, in the TPA up or down process, when they are finally made public. Conflicts over these trade deals would haunt these Senate Democrats through next spring at least, approaching the primary season, and they would also haunt their favorite candidate for President in 2016, who is undoubtedly Hillary Clinton, for reasons already mentioned in connection with House Democrats.
So, in the end, I think the Boehner, Ryan, Obama plan I've outlined here, has serious problems, and that the view that it is likely to pass is way oversimplified. I mean by this, that it may be right, and that it may be that the President is about to win his requirement for his trade deals, but also, that the justifications I've seen for the view that it is likely to pass are in the nature of one or a few statements, amounting to the idea that the previous TPA votes in the House and the Senate were both successful, and the future will be like the past, without giving adequate consideration to the ways in which the present context of voting is different from the earlier votes.
In other words, the "free trade" deals may well fail again in this upcoming vote. And the Administration may then have to rely on a fast one by Boehner between now and July 30th to pass TAA in the House on a re-vote of roll call 361, when the Democratic and Republican votes of last Friday have gone to sleep and cannot be mobilized for the critical vote.
(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)