Fast Track Authority for Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Pact Seems Doomed

Democrats vote against aid to "displaced workers" as they try to scuttle fast-track authority for Obama.


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.


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  1. Given what has leaked so far, the “Trade” deals were less about opening up trade and more about Obama’s “Fundimental Transformation” of America.

    Also, you don’t get 302 votes against without cross-party opposition.

    1. Today, the Evil Party saved us from the stupidity of the Stupid Party. God save us all from politicians who want to be seen “passing something”

    2. There are three different TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) here:

      The 302 against was for TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance), which is a Depression era union boondoggle supposedly helping workers who lose jobs because of trade. It’s often been passed standalone, but the Dems had asked for it to be bundled in in exchange for supporting fast track.

      The thing that passed, TPA (Trade Promotion Authority), is what used to be called fast track. It’s a general fast track authority that expired in 2007 and Obama has never had, unlike all other Presidents. However, treaties already under negotiation when it expired still got it, so until 2011 or so it didn’t matter much. If passed, it would apply to any treaty for the next 4 or so years.

      The first major treaty that they’d like to pass under fast track is the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) which is still being negotiated, and there isn’t a final text. Even if TPA passed, there still has to be a separate up or down vote on the TPP later, possibly under the next President.

  2. Sanders tries to shame Clinton into voicing her opinion on free trade, other key issues

    Yes… Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you….

    1. Clinton: Bernie who?

  3. government aid to workers supposedly displaced by freer international trade:

    I got outsourced to India. I qualify for a cheque here, right? RIGHT?

    1. Go easy on the curry there. It can have bad effects on your digestive tract if you haven’t acclimated to the local diet.

  4. Congress gave WHITE presidents all the fast-trackin they could handle — but a Black man can’t get that can he.

    1. Don’t laugh. This crap actually has been thrown out there.

      1. If so, then it’s the Dems who are racist, as the Republicans voted for fast track authority overwhelmingly (just not TAA.)

    2. Dubya campaigned on Fast Track. I seem to recall he got elected on his (overall) platform..
      And Congress granted it.

  5. You know who else was into making secret agreements with foreign governments?

    1. But I really like Secret Treaties

      1. Great album.

    2. Dr. Evil?

    3. Ross Perot?

  6. I’m absolutely in favor of free trade, but who know what these bills actually do. Mostly it’s cronies protecting their turf from all sides foreign and domestic. The concept of free trade has been co-opted by them and in this context is meaningless.

    1. Given the consistent naming strategies for acts of Congress, I tend to assume anything called a “Free Trade” act is likely to be just the opposite.

  7. I support free-trade, even unilateral free trade, but how the fuck are we supposed to know how much free trade we’re getting and whether it balances out all the crap they are sure to stuff it with if we can’t see the treaty?

    This is another one where Rand has really stood out, rejecting the fast track while saying he supports free trade and maybe even the treaty if it isn’t a shitshow.

    1. You see the treaty before the treaty is voted on. The treaty isn’t done yet.

      This is fast track authority for *all* treaty agreements for the next 4 or so years, into the next President’s term. It’s not just for TPP.

      Fast track expired in 2007, but still applied to treaties already under negotiation; up until 2011 everything being voted on had started before then.

      Since then, there haven’t been any finished agreements.

      1. I understand that, but the fact that congress ceded this power in the past is not a good argument to do so now or in the future. I know there are some benefits to TPA, because amending an already negotiated treaty basically kills the treaty. Another good thing Rand Paul said was that for every 100 or so lines (don’t remember the number) in a bill a day should be added between when its presented and when there is a vote.

        For something like this treaty there would be 30 days or so. If that were the case, I wouldn’t really have a problem with an up or down vote.

        1. For something like this treaty there would be 30 days or so. If that were the case, I wouldn’t really have a problem with an up or down vote.

          I too would like people to read the bill, but I think that amendments on trade bills generally would make things worse, not better. So I’m for fast track in general, and I’ll make my opinion on the TPP when it’s done.

    2. if we can’t see the treaty?

      Totally untrue. We see the Treaty when it’s finalized, when it can be rejected.
      Without fast track, our negotiators are working from the weakest position at the table. Virtually every other nation can make binding commitments on their own. Ours cannot, because we require Senate ratification of treaties and the others do not.

      So the real issue, ignored by the entire media, is that our negotiators are totally hamstrung without Fast Track. Why would anyone want us to be the weakest one at the bargaining table?

      Congress is restricted to an up or down vote only, with no filibusters or amendments, for simply the same reason. They’d be negotiating, a restriction on our negotiators, and ours alone.

      Would YOU negotiate with somebody who had no power to make any agreements with you?
      All those other nations are sovereign, right?.

      Should all such negotiations be done by the combined legislative bodies of every involved nation? Should they all be in the same room (or in the same stadium)?

      1. “Why would anyone want us to be the weakest one at the bargaining table?”
        Because we have an administration with such an ideologically progressive goal to fundamentally transform America, by whatever means they can.
        This means that the “free trade” that emerges will be more along the lines of ways to get around our elected representatives than to advance that which would make us economically stronger.
        Already there are indications that environmental, climate change and immigration components are included – all of which I would assume the voters, who turned out in droves in 2010 and 2014, would be against.
        Oblama, and his administration, have proven, time and again, that they cannot be trusted, why would anyone do so into the future.

        1. Well, at least you’re honest enough to describe your position as partisan tribalism and not faux constitutional principles. But here’s why it also seems to be hysteria.

          This means that the “free trade” that emerges will be more along the lines of ways to get around our elected representatives than to advance that which would make us economically stronger.

          1) Then Republicans can reject it!!!
          2) How are you privy to the secret negotiations?
          3) I call this the Chicken Little wing of politics, used by demagogues for all of human history. “There is a threat to the very existence of human life on earth. But I can save you. Just give me money and power.” I marched against that shit in the 50s. Was thus drawn to libertarianism. And never abandoned the moral principles involved.

  8. Have we reached the point where no large comprehensive legislation can be passed because the public simple doesn’t trust either the congress or the president?

    Oh, Lord please make it so.

  9. I has confooze. Why did the Dems vote against payments to their constituency?

    1. Because they think it will kill overall fast track authority. The GOP then demonstrated that they could get enough votes in favor of fast track overall (TPA) without TAA. However, because the Senate passed TPA and TAA together, and the House adopted a rule calling for them to be passed together, the GOP probably isn’t sneaky enough to ram fast track without TAA through the Senate.

      1. the GOP probably isn’t sneaky enough to ram fast track without TAA through the Senate.

        You’re probably right (sigh). They’re too fucking stupid to realize how that would totally decimate the liberal defeat of TAA, being worker (again) … and leave them twisting slowly in the wind. And Cruz can always do something totally mindless.

        The dumbass right has no clue how Democrats have destroyed so many of our best jobs (including libertarian ‘think’ tanks)

  10. This is fast track not just for the TPA, but for all trade agreements within the time limit, which extends past Obama’s term into the next President.

  11. Good

  12. I thought Pelosi was all for “You have to pass it to see what’s in it.”

    1. What they were voting on was completely transparent and the text available, as it has been for years.

      Actually voting on the trade agreement is a completely different vote that won’t take place for months, possibly years.

  13. We’re all Charlie now.


    Thank god the Chinese still do trade agreements.

  15. So why won’t it pass in the Senate, even modified?

    The media (all of them) seem unaware of WHY we might need Fast Track at all. Well, we’re virtually the only country that requires legislative approval of treaties. Thus, we are ALWAYS the weakest position at the table, especially for multi-nation agreements — despite all the ignorant hysteria of its opponents. Congress can simply vote down a bad agreement — just like today’s defeat of a partial measure.

    1. Why weak? How about – “we will never get this provision past Congress”

  16. Anytime the bozos in DC want something and will not tell us what it is, alarm bells should be going off. One more time it’s “Just pass it and then you can know what is in it”.
    B.S. Never again.

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