“By definition, massive trade deals like the TPP override domestic laws written, debated, and passed by Congress. If fast-track passes, Congress will have given up its power to strip out any backroom arrangements and special favors…
“We will have also given up our right to strip out whatever other special favors industry can bury in new trade agreements – not just in the TPP, but in potential trade deals for the next six years.”
– Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) Op-Ed in the Boston Globe, May 11, 2015
Not only is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) the leading voice in Congress, right now, for sensible progressive causes, she can listen, too. And, of course, regulator that she is, she can count. She knew that ever since the trouncing the Democrats took in the 2014 midterm election, the passage of the TPP was a fait accompli.
It was obvious that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was one of only a small number of bills favored by the Obama administration that the Republican led U. S. Senate would get behind. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) signaled as much right after the new Congress was gaveled into session.
“It’s an enormous grant of power, obviously, from a Republican Congress to a Democratic president,” he said in January, “but that’s how much we believe in trade as an important part of America’s economy.” And, he added in that classic passive aggressive McConnell way, “I’m happy the president has now become a born-again free trader. It’s high time.”
There were always going to be enough Democrats willing to back their president and maybe even some who legitimately believe in trade deals despite opposition by Sen. Warren and the AFL-CIO.
After all it was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) who helped come up with bipartisan language for the bill, and he is hardly considered a conservative Democrat. That he and all but one Democrat voted against the fast-track legislation, Tuesday, didn’t indicate the TPP was dead. It was just held up until some other issues could be addressed.
Nor did it indicate, as the mainstream media seemed to charge, that there was, as Politico put it, a “meltdown” in the Democratic Senate Caucus. Neither does it indicate immutable friction between the minority party and the president, as in another Politico headline: “Barack Obama’s war on the left.”
Other news outlets also used harsh language: “DEMS TURN ON OBAMA OVER ASIA TRADE,” screamed Wednesday’s USA Today; “Obama Foiled On Trade Pact By Democrats,” the New York Times chided.
“They just got throttled,” Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) gloated to the press, “‘President rebuked. Democrats defy president. President thwarted.’ Those were the headlines this morning.”
But here’s the thing. They were always going to get this one worked out. It was always going to pass. The deal reached Wednesday gives the Dems some votes on currency manipulation, sub-Sahran African trade, and Trade Adjustment Assistance, “to help,” according to Politico, “workers who lose their jobs as a result of expanded trade.”
Yet those votes mean nothing. Even if they pass the Senate, the House of Representatives will almost certainly balk at the bills, and only vote to give fast track trade authority to the president. That means the Executive Branch can negotiate secret deals that then get a vote.
“This is a bad deal,” AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka told PBS‘ Gwen Ifill, Tuesday, after the failed vote, but before Wednesday’s compromise. “This will hurt our economy. This will hurt our communities. It will hurt our country, and it shouldn’t be done in a fast track manner, where you only get to vote it up or down after it was negotiated in secret.”
As for the deal reached Wednesday, Trumka was unmoved. Passing the main fast track trade bill, he told reporters, should depend on the passage the measures that are now to be voted on separately. “What they demanded yesterday, they should continue to demand today,” he said.
Although it is true that progressive Democrats will be disappointed at the deal, nothing, of course, can be taken for granted when it comes to the machinations of Congress. Some fait accomplis surprisingly become fait peut-être accomplis. The actual vote is not supposed to happen until early next week. Plenty of time to change some minds. But will it be enough?