The New York Times reports on an important vote this morning that likely spells doom for both House and Senate ever agreeing on a bill that will give Obama the fast-track authority he wants on a future vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact (that authority would require Congress to vote merely up or down on the treaty, one whose details are still secret from the public).
It began with the extraordinary sight of the Democrats, led by their Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), voting against a bill that gave government aid to workers supposedly displaced by freer international trade:
In a remarkable rejection of a president they have resolutely backed, House Democrats voted to kill assistance to workers displaced by global trade, a program their party created and has stood by for four decades. By doing so, they brought down legislation granting the president trade promotion authority — the power to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress — before it could even come to a final vote…..
Republican leaders then passed a stand-alone trade promotion bill, but that would force the Senate to take up a trade bill all over again. And without trade adjustment assistance alongside it, passing trade promotion authority in the Senate would be highly doubtful.
The vote was an extraordinary blow to Mr. Obama, who went to the Capitol on Friday morning to plead personally with Democrats to "play it straight" — to oppose trade promotion if they must but not to kill trade assistance, a move he cast as cynical. On Thursday night, he had made an unscheduled trip to the annual congressional baseball game to try to persuade Ms. Pelosi.
I blogged last night about the complicated politics and policy of unknowable trade pacts, for Democrats, Republicans, and free traders.
What's next for international trade? Not sure right now! While many 100 percent free traders are, rightfully, dubious about secretive trade pacts hashed out with governments, NGOs, and interested businesses behind closed doors who have more on their mind than making things cheaper for consumers (that is, all of us), the Democrats' reasons for opposition are largely about making sure that trade pacts are larded with international standardization of things like labor and environmental regs.
Our politicians are given few opportunities to show unsullied up or down support for the basics of free trade: making it easier and freer for goods, services, and workers to move across the world to the mutual benefits of the traders by eliminating legal barriers and taxes on trade. It's something we could do on our own without complicated multi-year international negotiations. Alas, we don't seem too inclined to do that.
UPDATE: The Hill with the partisan breakdown on the TAA (aid for displaced workers) and separate TPA (fast track authority) votes:
Only 40 Democrats backed TAA, while 144 voted against it. On the GOP side, 158 Republicans voted "no," while 86 Republicans voted "yes."…
In a slight surprise, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced after the TAA vote that the House would still vote on the fast-track measure, as well as a separate customs bill.
In the vote on fast-track, the measure was approved in a 219-211 vote. Twenty-eight Democrats backed fast-track, while 54 Republicans voted "no."
But remember as in the Times report above that that separate fast-track vote doesn't match the Senate bill, so the process would have to start over there for Obama to actually get the authority.