Strange U.S. House of Representatives Procedure For Passing TPP Trade Agreement

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives (the “lower” chamber of Congress) voted down a workers-aid bill called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

It was a defeat for Obama that could be considered a win for Democrats.

Why did they vote it down? It was considered the only way to vote down “fast-track” trade authority for the TPP.

The TAA bill was rejected in a “lopsided” 126-302 vote, with only 40 Democrats and 86 Republicans voting yes, writes The Hill.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against it.  Voting down TAA is the only way to “slow down the fast track,” Pelosi declared.

The way they were set up, the TAA and the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) bills both had to pass in order to send a bill to the president.

The TPA is the “fast-track authority” bill.  Fast-track authority would make it easier to pass the TPP trade agreement (it would be passed on a yes/no vote as opposed to being changed and debated).

Pelosi’s support seemed pivotal.  According to The Guardian, “all of Obama’s efforts proved for naught after Pelosi took the floor and spoke out against the deal.”  She said: “While I’m a big supporter of TAA, if TAA slows down the fast track I am prepared to vote against TAA,” writes The Guardian.

So, it seems she was originally for the TAA and then turned against the deal.

The House then voted on and narrowly passed the fast-track bill (TPA), 219-211, with support from a large number of Republicans and 28 pro-trade Democrats.

This vote didn’t matter much, because, again, the package was structured in such as way that it couldn’t be sent to Obama’s desk without the TAA passing as well.

So, the TAA was shot down, and after that it doesn’t matter if the TPA bill was passed or not.

Interestingly, it’s not over. According to The Hill, House Republican leaders will put the TAA aid bill – traditionally favored by Democrats – on the floor again possibly Tuesday, hoping Obama can flip some “no” votes to “yes” over the weekend.

Obama’s press secretary tried to downplay the President’s loss (but the Democrats’ gain?).

According to The Hill, it’s unlikely the same bill (for the TAA) would produce a dramatically different result next week.

The Republican whip team said it had as many as 93 GOP votes at one point during the TAA roll call, but characterized it as close to the “high-water mark” for the party (in other words, they won’t get more than 93 Republicans to vote for the bill).

Ironically, on Friday morning, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team tried to encourage Republicans to vote for the “leftist” TAA. Again, if the TAA didn’t pass, then fast-track trade authority wouldn’t pass, either.

He made a surprise visit to the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park on Thursday. The TAA was already limping along at that point. In the Democrats’ dugout along the third baseline, Obama, sporting sunglasses, cracked jokes and posed for photos with lawmakers.

He didn’t mention trade to the players, but the issue was unavoidable. Fans sitting in the stands behind the Democrats held homemade signs reading: “VOTE NO TAA. NO FAST TRACK.”

Why didn’t the bills get more support?

The Hill states that Democratic critics were unhappy with an amendment that barred climate change provisions in trade deals.

There was also reportedly wording in one of the bills that stated that Medicare cuts were to be used to pay for the TAA. Critics complained that the way the trade bills were structured meant Democrats would still have to vote for Medicare cuts, even though they were eliminated in a separate trade bill. Voting for Medicare cuts, opponents argued, was tantamount to political suicide.

(Updated article)

TPP Fast-Track Authority Approved By The Senate


In an unusual coalition between President Obama and Senate Republicans, sweeping legislation to strengthen the Presidents’ administration’s authority in global trade talks – called “fast-track authority” – moved towards Senate passage Thursday after a contentious debate.

The vote was not on the actual TPP trade agreement, but rather “fast-track authority” for it.

The TPP trade agreement has been called “secretive” and even “unconstitutional” by some critics.

Thursday’s vote kept alive Obama’s efforts to secure the broad trade deal by advancing legislation that would give him expanded authority to complete the accord.

“Fast-track” legislation would allow the President to make trade deals that Congress could either support or reject but not amend or change.

Previous presidents have had similar authority for agreements such as NAFTA. Administration officials argue that Japan and other Pacific-region countries in the current round of TPP talks will be unwilling to present offers for the deal if they know lawmakers can seek more concessions.

The 62-38 vote, just two more than the 60 needed, came from a strong group of Republicans and a group of roughly a dozen Democrats who “changed sides” for the vote.

A decisive “thumbs-up” came from Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington after she and a few others seized the moment as leverage to demand a vote next month on legislation to renew the Export-Import Bank.

“It was a nice victory. We’re going to continue and finish up the bill this week,” said Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, apparently basking in the glory.

He is – ironically – Obama’s most important Senate ally on the trade bill, according to the Associated Press.

The Senate passage clears the way for a fierce struggle in the House, according to the AP.  The fate of “fast-track” in the House remains a tossup because Obama faces entrenched opposition from his own party, according to The Washington Post.

The president was up late Wednesday night placing telephone calls to lawmakers, and he spoke with Cantwell again shortly before the vote.

“…(T)he real political divide is over the value of international trade agreements themselves, and the result has been a blurring of traditional political lines,” writes the Associated Press.

Supporters say such agreements benefit the American economy by lowering barriers overseas and expanding markets for U.S. services and goods.  Labor unions and Democratic allies in Congress argue the deals cost jobs at home and send them to nations with lax environmental and safety standards and low wages.

The trade measure is one of three major bills pending in the Senate, and lawmakers will have a weeklong Memorial Day recess at week’s end.

The measure for fast-track authority received just enough Democratic support to keep it moving, following a last-ditch lobbying effort by Obama and his top advisers. The fate of the legislation, also known as trade promotion authority, hung in the balance for more than 30 minutes during the vote, writes The Washington Post.

The AFL-CIO labor union denounced the vote as “shameful” in a graphic that featured the names and photos of each of the 13 Democratic senators who voted for the bill. The AFL-CIO is clear on its position against the agreement.

Senator Bernie Sanders – a Democratic candidate for President who is running against Hillary Clinton for that party’s nomination – hammered the Senate for siding with corporations while harming American workers.

Sanders said:

“If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas.

“Bad trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are a major reason for the collapse of the American middle class and the increase in wealth and income inequality in the United States…”

Sanders also said, “We must defeat fast track and develop a new policy on trade,” writes Politicususa.

Hillary Clinton has been indifferent on her position on the trade agreement.

Jeb Bush, who is presumably the Republican frontrunner in the race for president, supports the trade deal.  He wrote in April “I haven’t changed in my view even though Hillary Clinton has. It is time to move forward as even recent Democratic presidents have recognized — and Sec. Clinton shouldn’t stand in the way for political gain.”

The unions fighting Obama on trade were hoping for much more from Clinton.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told Politico last month that Clinton coming out forcefully against the fast-track authority would “put some wind in her sails” with organized labor that is still furious at her husband for NAFTA.

When asked by Politico in April where Clinton would differ from Obama on trade policy, and what she would do differently from what Obama is proposing, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill did not respond directly to the question.

“She has laid out the bar that needs to be met, to protect American workers, raise wages, and create more good jobs at home,” said Merrill.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s trying to start up a candidacy on Clinton’s left, is against the trade deal, as he and his aides have eagerly pointed out, writes Politico.

Oddly, there is a Republican presidential candidate who does not support the trade deal:  Mike Huckabee.

Bayoubuzz writes:

“Huckabee believes that the United States has been losing its’ economic base for years and that the supposed free trade deals we have entered into in the past have not been fair to this country. In his announcement speech, Huckabee said he will focus on average working Americans who ‘don’t feel like anybody understands or knows who they are, much less cares what’s happening to them.'”

(Updated article)–finance.html

White House Readies Recommendations On Use of Military Force For Congress


The White House is expected to seek congressional authorization within days for military operations against the Islamic State.  This could start a political fight that could see the administration clash with members of both parties over how much authority to give the president regarding the fight with ISIS.

Barack Obama is preparing to send “specific legislative language” for what is known as an authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, that provides federal legal backing for overseas operations, according to sources.

The White House was working to transmit its recommendations to Congress as early as Friday, although that could change. White House officials have been speaking extensively with individual lawmakers in recent days about the AUMF, in part to build support for what they deliver to Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Lawmakers said they want the White House to spell out what if any limitations are appropriate in the fight against Islamic State, including whether and how combat troops are used and whether there is a time limit on the fight.

Democrats and Republicans would have different reasons for limiting authorization. Democrats would wish limit the amount of bloodshed and the use of war in foreign policy:

“We need to learn lessons from prior authorizations, and one of them clearly is we can’t do open-ended, unending authorizations,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said.

Republicans would like to limit any authority the president has, in all areas:

“It’s also going to be incumbent upon the president to go out there and make the case to the American people for why we have to fight this fight,” said John Boehner (R., Ohio), adding, “It’s not going to be an easy lift.”

Whatever the White House delivers to lawmakers is unlikely to forestall a political fight that could make moving an authorization through Congress difficult. House and Senate members, sensitive to war-weary voters and wary of providing an open-ended authorization, are expected to try to limit what the White House can do, a position more hawkish lawmakers are expected to oppose.