[Ip-health] Zach Carter and Sabrina Siddiqui in the Huffington Post: Strange Bedfellows Are Blocking The McConnell-Obama Trade Deal
thiru at keionline.org
Wed Dec 3 04:10:55 PST 2014
Strange Bedfellows Are Blocking The McConnell-Obama Trade Deal
Posted: 12/03/2014 12:31 am EST Updated: 5 hours ago
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been dreaming
cutting major deals as Senate majority leader for most of his career. Next
year, he'll finally get the chance to do it with the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, the most ambitious free trade agreement since the Clinton era.
The only thing standing in his way is his own political party.
President Barack Obama's administration has been negotiating the TPP since
the beginning of his presidency. Twelve nations are now involved in the
talks, which have major implications for the U.S. economy, public health
and foreign policy. But Obama has faced two domestic obstacles to enacting
his pact: Democrats in Congress, who worry it will exacerbate income
and a bloc of House Republicans, who are up in arms about the deal's
implications for executive power and national sovereignty.
The administration conducts the talks in secret, so the public only knows
about terms of the deal through leaked documents
But opposition from conservative hardliners has intensified since GOP gains
in the midterm elections, even as McConnell has pledged to cut a deal with
Obama on TPP as one of his first orders of business next year.
"I think it's insane to give Obama some power to negotiate an important
treaty in secret without any supervision, not have to account to Congress
or the Senate," Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent social conservative best
known for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, told HuffPost
last week. "It just blows my mind why Republicans would be willing to do
that. We've been yapping for months about his executive actions and his
executive amnesty and taking unconstitutional positions."
The internal GOP feud over what some conservative critics are calling "
Obamatrade <http://obamatrade.com/>" is just the latest in a series of
skirmishes between the party's corporate-friendly leadership and its
Prior to 2011, it was rare for a Republican Congress to block government
perks for major corporations. But tea party-backed members have bucked the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with the lobbying group's top congressional
supporters, McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), almost as a
matter of routine. They've killed immigration reform (a major Chamber
repeal of the medical device tax as "crony capitalism
called for the elimination of the Export-Import Bank
and are currently roiling efforts to extend corporate tax perks during the
With the populist base in revolt, ambitious Republicans eyeing potential
presidential runs are struggling to sort out their policy stances. The
office of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told HuffPost that he generally supports
free trade deals, but will have to see what's included in Obama's final TPP
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has taken every conceivable position on the trade
pact. In October, he gave a speech
<http://www.paul.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1231> calling for Obama to
finalize the TPP by year-end. Back in January, he was scheduled
attend a press conference attacking "Obamatrade." In September 2011, he
voted against an amendment offered by McConnell that would give Obama the
power to push through the deal without any amendments from Congress. The
next month, Paul introduced
new bill that included McConnell's entire amendment.
Paul told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that he supports the broader trade
agreement but is undecided on a fast-track bill.
"I'm definitely for the trade pact," Paul said. "I haven't fully decided on
[Trade Promotion Authority]."
The divide among the Washington GOP elite over trade policy is relatively
new. But top Republicans have been aware of the anti-free trade base for
decades. Populist attacks on foreign trade are a common theme for campaign
ads from McConnell himself.
"Beshear's going international, gettin' rich off of foreign trade treaties,
and sendin' jobs down to Mexico, takin' thousands of dollars from from them
foreign agents and lobbyists," boomed a 1996 McConnell ad attacking his
challenger, Steve Beshear, a Democrat who is now the governor of Kentucky.
"Mitch McConnell pushed for a ban on foreign political money. He's been
fightin' foreign trade abuses, protectin' jobs!"
McConnell made a similar pitch in May, with an ad boasting
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rp7TULnXTA>, "Mitch helped save hundreds
of jobs when he fought against unfair foreign trade."
Words like "unfair," of course, give McConnell wiggle room to claim he's
technically telling the truth. But the ads clearly play to working-class
anxieties over trade policy that has been prevalent since President Bill
Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993
while McConnell now has six years of padding after his 16-point trouncing
of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes on Nov. 4, other Republicans weighing
primaries in deep-red districts or at the presidential level face a more
complicated political calculus, balancing a populist base with well-funded
GOP allies in the Chamber.
Obama's TPP is modeled on NAFTA, and like NAFTA, it almost certainly cannot
pass without a policy called "fast-track" or "Trade Promotion Authority,"
which strips Congress of the ability to amend or filibuster the
legislation. The expanded presidential power first passed under Richard
Nixon and was approved as a matter of course until the 1990s. Votes since
have been politically contentious, failing in 1998 under Clinton, and
squeaking by in 2002 under George W. Bush by a single vote. Fast-track
authority expired with the passage of three trade pacts in 2011.
Fast-track "is a very necessary predecessor to TPP, because you aren’t
going to get these 12 countries to sign the TPP until they know the Senate
and the House of Representatives can’t change it," Sen. Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa) told HuffPost. "They’re not going to negotiate the agreement
But for conservative hardliners, transferring power from a Republican
Congress to Obama is a big no-no.
"Why does anyone trust Barack Obama?" said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea
Party Nation, who has defended restricted voting rights to real estate
"Either he's incompetent, or he wants to negotiate trade deals that are bad
for average Americans."
Fast-track and NAFTA-style deals have limited Democratic support in
Congress, amid strong opposition from labor unions, public health experts
, Internet freedom advocates
other liberal groups. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not
brought a fast-track bill to the floor all year, and announced no plans to
do so at a recent press conference.
"I'm not a big fan of fast-tracking," Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill
this month. "I think that trade agreements in the past have not been good
for American workers."
Even some moderate Republicans have expressed reservations over fast-track
legislation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Huffington Post he would
not support a fast-track deal without language declaring currency
manipulation an unfair trade practice.
But the House is a bigger problem for TPP supporters. Boehner didn't put a
fast-track bill on the floor this year, saying he needed at least 50
Democratic yeas to pass it. In the new Congress, he'll have an expanded
majority. But with tea party elements organizing against it, more
Republicans may not do the trick.
Passing TPP will likely require a fast-track bill setting conditions for
any final pact Obama negotiates. Since Boehner will need Democratic votes,
he and McConnell will have to cut a deal with Obama that includes enough
progressive priorities to bring at least some House Democrats on board
without alienating House conservatives.
"I don't know exactly what the Republicans are going to put out, but I
assume it's going to be something similar to old-fashioned [fast-tracking],
where there’s nothing about about human rights, not very much about
environment or worker safety or currency or trade enforcement, and that
needs to be part of this before we move forward on TPP," Sen. Sherrod Brown
(D-Ohio) told HuffPost. "It's not an automatic thing just because
Republicans want to have it."
So far, the most influential tea party groups, the Club for Growth and
Heritage Action, have stayed out of the fray. Both organizations broadly
support free trade, but revile the types of concessions Democrats will
demand. In 2011, Republicans nearly killed
pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama by demanding to eliminate a
program called "Trade Adjustment Assistance," which provides federal aid to
U.S. workers who lose their jobs due to expanded foreign trade.
And Trade Adjustment Assistance, which expires at year-end, may again be a
battleground come January. Heritage Action
called it a "leftist" program that has "soaked" taxpayers to benefit
unions. Even the nine Democrats who signed a letter last year supporting
fast-track called Trade Adjustment Assistance "critical" and "a vital
program to ensure that no American worker is left behind in the global
GOP leadership can't offer many carrots to placate the conservative groups
that already oppose fast-track, since those organizations think the policy
is fundamentally unconstitutional, citing Article I, Section 8, which
grants Congress the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations
"It's extra-constitutional power," said Phillips. "The founding fathers
were lot brighter than these guys."
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