Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Obama Lame Duck Watch: Pelosi Puts Another Nail in Toxic Trade Deal Coffin, Says She Opposes Giving Administration “Fast Track” Authority ....... With House Dem leader Pelosi and Senate Dem leader Reid both dead set against FAST TRACK , TPP is flatlining fast..... And of course Environmentalists and the Big Unions also are dead set against TPP !
Obama now has another hurdle to overcome if he is to get his toxic trade deals, the TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, passed in time for him to take credit for handing the keys to America over to multinational corporations and turning out the lights.
As we’ve discussed in recent posts, these deals have perilously little to do with trade since trade is substantially liberalized. The “trade” branding of these deals serves as a Trojan horse. Their big effect would be to considerably strengthen intellectual property rights (benefitting the medical-industrial complex, technology companies and Hollywood) while substantially weakening national sovereignity by allowing foreign investors to sue governments for lost potential profits as a result of national laws and regulation, such as environmental, labor, or consumer protection.
Precisely because the content of these deals is so appalling, the Administration has conducted the negotiations in extraordinary secrecy. But as bits have leaked out (and the drafts of two critical chapters, one on intellectual property, the other on environmental regulations, were released by Wikileaks), normally complacent Congresscritters, both on the left and the right, have been increasingly objected to the substance of the deals as well as the process, that Congress in recent decades has allowed itself to be shut out of shaping these pacts by authorizing “fast track” authority, which allows the President to present Congress with the text it negotiated, for a simple up-down vote.
Today Nancy Pelosi has told a gathering of labor leaders that she’s opposed to fast track. This is a significant development since heretofore Pelosi has made much less forceful statements. From theWashington Post:
In an event with labor officials on Capitol Hill today, Pelosi delivered her strongest statement yet of opposition to the bill that would grant the Fast Track Authority sought by the administration to negotiate a sweeping free trade deal with a dozen Pacific countries. The bill — co-sponsored by Dem Senator Max Baucus and GOP Rep. Dave Camp — is strongly opposed by labor, liberal groups and many Congressional Dems.
“No on Fast Track — Camp-Baucus — out of the question,” Pelosi said, according to a transcript of her remarks forwarded to me by her office. She also told assembled steelworkers: “We cannot support Camp-Baucus. We cannot support Camp-Baucus.”
This marks a significant hardening of Pelosi’s opposition to the Fast Track Authority bill. It doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility that she could support some version of Fast Track at some point, if its terms are overhauled to deal with her concerns about job loss from currency manipulation, and to create much more transparency around negotiations and give Dems much more input into them. But it creates a hurdle to the free trade measure, because it will be difficult to meet the conditions for supporting Fast Track that Pelosi is now laying down.
Public Citizen, which has been relentlessly ferreting out information about trade deals and documenting their impact for years, deserves a great deal of credit, as do Democracy for America and CREDO, which have been lobbying Pelosi hard to take a stand against these pacts.
But even though this is another obstacle for Obama to overcome to get these deals done, Pelosi set down conditions that Obama might pretend to meet with artful concessions. So please, if you haven’t contacted Pelosi’s office before, please call or write to tell her you appreciate her tough stance but also to stress that the problem isn’t just secrecy, it’s the sweeping rights of the investor panels to gut national regulation, and the obscene strengthening of intellectual property rights that have to go too. And if you are in her district, please write or call your local paper. The Administration can still try to revive these pacts in the lame duck session, so it’s important to keep up the message that significant parts of the public understand what a massive corporate giveaway these “trade” deals are.
Obama made yet another pitch in State of the Union Address for his gimmies to multinationals known as the TransPacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Today that idea went down in flames, at least as far as getting the deals done this year are concerned. From Huffington Post:
“I’m against fast track,” [Harry] Reid told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill, before suggesting a fast-track bill introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) may not get a vote.
“We’ll see. Everyone knows how I feel about this. Senator Baucus knows, [potential backer] Sen. [Ron] Wyden knows. The White House knows.”
Indeed, Reid cautioned the president and his allies to back off.
“I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now,” the majority leader said.
Although Reid was known to be opposed to fast track, it’s quite another matter for him as a Democratic Congressional leader to tell Obama to take a hike. I can’t recall such frontal and public opposition to an important Administration initiative before. This is really humiliating.
Fast-track authority is seen as crucial to cementing a trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership because of the reassurance it would provide negotiating partners in a last, tough round of talks. Other nations are typically reluctant to make trading concessions unless the U.S. can offer assurances that trading pacts won’t be amended or rejected at the last minute….
“You can kiss any new trade deals goodbye,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas.) “I think the majority leader’s focus is on the November elections and he doesn’t want to expose his vulnerable members to controversial votes.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier.
And although it received much less media coverage, matters for Obama got even worse because Ron Wyden signaled he’s not on board either. This matters because Wyden is taking over as the chairman of the Finance Services Committee when Max Bacus becomes Ambassador to China.
The Administration absurdly tried claiming it would continue to push for fast track, otherwise known as trade promotion authority. Really? Over Reid’s dead body?
A blocked Senate leaves the Obama administration with two options: wait until after November’s election and try its luck with a new Congress or push for passage of the Pacific Rim deal – which is likely to contain a host of contentious provisions – while insisting that lawmakers not change a word.
But my Congressional correspondents think another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions.
However, that cheery view assumes that the situation is static, when opposition to these bills is becoming even more pronounced. Politico again:
Reid’s comments come amid mounting Democratic opposition to the bill. On Monday, 550 labor, environmental and consumer advocacy groups – including the United Autoworkers, which has lent Obama critical backing on previous free trade pacts such as the South Korea deal – sent a letter to Congress urging them to reject the fast-track bill.
And the repudiation by Reid and the stiffening resistance to these bills won’t go unnoticed overseas. The Wikileaks publication of drafts of two critical chapters showed a wide gap between the US positions and that of many of its supposed partners. Our reader Clive has also described how the Japanese media (and Japan is essential to the TPP being consummated) is being uncharacteristically direct in saying the US was not negotiating, and it would need to make significant concessions to reach an agreement. The TPP was already going pear shaped, and whatever sense of momentum the US had been able to create is now kaput.
Admittedly, the European trade deal is in much better shape, but the specter of a blunt rejection by Congressional leaders of the Administration’s own party may strengthen the hands of opponents. Remember, much can change in a year in politics.
So NC readers should pat themselves on the back. Your calls and e-mails to your Representatives and Senators helped deal the Administration a visible, embarrassing, and thoroughly deserved defeat. If Obama can’t deliver a deal that corporations lobbied for heavily, he’s firmly in lame duck territory.
I also hope you’ll thank your Congressmen for their opposition to these deals, and encourage them to keep up the good work. And be sure to thank Reid and Wyden. Good work!