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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

 
The TPP Vote & the Presidential Primary

by Gaius Publius


Earlier this year, the pro-corporate neoliberals in the Democratic Party — Obama, Biden, the TPP senators and House members — and their behind-the-scenes enablers — Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi — won the long and drawn out Fast Track vote. For the next three to six years, any bill labeled a "trade deal" will be "fast-tracked" through Congress. No amendments, no delay of the calendar, no filibuster. Just an up-or-down vote, with the hands of Congress hands well tied.

According to The Guardian (and others), the twelve nations involved in TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) negotiations have finally reached agreement. The deal is ready for Obama's intent-to-sign announcement and Congressional approval.

The Guardian reports, in a filled-with-corporate-spin article:

TPP deal: US and 11 other countries reach landmark Pacific trade pact

Trans-Pacific Partnership – the biggest trade deal in a generation – would affect 40% of world economy, but still requires ratification from US Congress and other world lawmakers

Trade ministers from 12 countries announced the largest trade-liberalizing [spin; it's actually trade-managing] pact in a generation on Monday. In a press conference in Atlanta, trade ministers from the US, Australia and Japan called the the Trans-Pacific Partnership an “ambitious” and “challenging” negotiation that will cut red tape [spin] globally and “set the rules for the 21st century for trade” [not spin; it will lock in monopolies for a generation].

The deal – in the works since 2008 – is a major victory for the US president, Barack Obama [not spin]. “This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers and manufacturers [spin] by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” the president said in a statement. “It includes the strongest commitments [lies, if by "commitments" he means things that can be forced to happen] on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements [distancing-from-NAFTA spin].”

While it still faces major hurdles, not least in Congress, the deal could reshape industries and influence everything from the price of cheese to the cost of cancer treatments [not spin; these will all go up]. It is expected to set common standards for 40% of the world’s economy, become a new flashpoint for the 2016 presidential campaign, and could become a legacy-defining agreement for the Obama administration [not spin, but the legacy won't be favorable].

The deal is seen as a challenge to China’s growing dominance in the Pacific region [spin; China will be a shadow participant via corporate subsidiaries in TPP countries like Vietnam]. China had been invited to join the trade group but balked at restrictions that the deal would have placed on its financial sector and other areas. ...

I glossed the text so I wouldn't have to write a kitchen-sink essay about it. Instead, I want to touch briefly on three aspects of this deal, three ways to look at what happens down the road. Keep in mind, this still has to pass Congress.


The Bipartisan Public Is Against It

The first thing to remember is — the public does not support it. Lori Wallach at Public Citizen (pdf):
Polling: As this memo shows, recent polling reveals broad U.S. public opposition to more-of-the-same trade deals among Independents, Republicans and Democrats. While Americans support trade, they do not support an expansion of status quo trade policies, complicating the push for the TPP. Furthermore, recent Pew polls in many of the TPP nations show that, outside Vietnam, the deal does not have strong support.
There's much more in this vein. Just look at the popularity of Donald Trump's statements against TPP among right-wing Republicans. No one but the wealthy and their defenders say nice things about NAFTA. By and large, people get that this is more of that, is worse than that. And when the text is actually released, people will finally get how much worse than NAFTA it is.


Three of Four Major Candidates Have Declared a TPP Position

Second, let's look at what this does to the presidential battle. Donald Trump has tweeted his disdain:
Bernie Sanders has been solidly against TPP for a long time.
If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class and creating the millions of good paying jobs we desperately need, we must fundamentally rewrite our trade policies. NO to fast track, and NO to the TPP.
The whole piece from which the above was taken is an excellent bottom-line take-down of TPP.

Joe Biden, not a candidate, quite, is on board defending TPP:
Biden, I think, could kill any hope he has of being taken seriously as a Democratic candidate if he carries through and whips for TPP.

Hillary Clinton's position is unclear (example here). She has said she needs to read the text to evaluate it. At HillaryClinton.com, the only hit for the word "trade" comes on the National Security issues page:
Holding China accountable. As secretary of state, Hillary reasserted America’s role as a Pacific power and called out China’s aggressive actions in the region. As president, she’ll work with friends and allies to promote strong rules of the road and institutions in Asia, and encourage China to be a responsible stakeholder—including on cyberspace, human rights, trade, territorial disputes, and climate change—and hold it accountable if it does not.
The text will soon be released. I'd be surprised if an announcement from her weren't forthcoming. It's certainly time for the last major candidatorial shoe to drop. According to this timeline (pdf), "The Fast Track statute requires public posting of a text 30 days after the 90-day notice of intent to sign."

One note about Clinton — If she comes out strong against TPP, and whips against it during the congressional debate, it will likely result in a big win for opponents of TPP and it will boost her credibility as an alternative to Sanders. If you're a Clinton supporter, I'd start lobbying for that today.

The parallel risk for Clinton is also present, and to an almost equal degree. If she seems in favor, it could confirm her opponents' worst fears about her pro-corporate leanings.


The Congressional Battle & After the Congressional Battle

Third, this doesn't end with passage, should that occur. Or at least, it doesn't have to. TPP is an "executive agreement" and not a treaty. About that (my emphasis; links at the source):
An executive agreement[1][2] is an agreement between the heads of government of two or more nations that has not been ratified by the legislature as treaties are ratified. Executive agreements are considered politically binding to distinguish them from treaties which are legally binding. An executive agreement is one of three mechanisms by which the United States enters into binding international agreements. They are considered treaties by some authors as the term is used under international law in that they bind both the United States and a foreign sovereign state. However, they are not considered treaties as the term is used under United States Constitutional law, because the United States Constitution's treaty procedure requires the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate, and these agreements are made solely by the President of the United States.
There's a lot in play here. Can an "executive agreement" be abrogated by a later president? Does Congress need to vote on that abrogation? Have any of our previous treaties or "executive agreements" been ignored by past administrations?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I think we do need them. After all, if I were president and I hated TPP as much as I do, I'd unsign it on day one if I could. In fact, if I were a candidate running hard against TPP, one with a real chance to win, I'd consider announcing my opposition to enforcing TPP ahead of time if I discovered that were one of my options.

Just a thought. I get that there are a lot of questions to answer first. I also get that there's plenty of time to answer them.


Is a "What I Will Never Put You Through if I'm President" Speech Starting to Look Attractive?

And a fourth idea, or at least a dream. I wrote about this earlier (scroll to the end of this piece), but this brings it home again. A Sander-like candidate not only tallies accomplishments by doing; she or he also accomplishes by not-doing. This is a case, again, where a different, better president would not even have brought this up. And what a gift that would have been, not having been handed this battle one more time.

Remember the energy and time burned in trying (and failing) to stop Obama and the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party from passing Fast Track? It was exhausting. And here we are again. With that in mind, I would dearly love to listen to a presidential candidate say these words:
If you elect me president, here's what I will never do ...

I will never negotiate a so-called "trade" deal that sends American jobs across our borders. No one will have to spend one minute asking me to stop a deal that hurts American workers. I will support only trade deals that increase American jobs, that create new workers in this country, that increase our balance of payments, and nothing less. ...
A dream perhaps, but a nice one.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)

GP



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