More Craven Arguments Used to Sell TPP and Fast Track to Congress, With Mixed Results

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen.

I don’t know what’s occurring more rapidly, Congressional votes on Trade Promotion Authority (aka fast track) or the parade of half-truths and outright falsehoods being promoted to sell it. Committees in the House and Senate held meetings Wednesday on the bill. The Senate Finance Committee markup got off to a slow start when Bernie Sanders used an obscure Senate maneuver to delay the markup:

Early Wednesday, Sanders forced the Senate Finance Committee to abandon a legislative hearing on a bill that would grant Obama so-called fast-track authority on trade agreements. Sanders invoked an arcane procedural maneuver, objecting to a rule that allows committees to meet during legislative sessions. By doing so, Sanders has prevented the Finance Committee from dealing with the trade bill until at least 4:00 p.m.

That’s significant because Senate Democrats, including Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), have prepared dozens of amendments to the fast-track bill, which will take several hours to address in committee. If the panel can’t finish its work Wednesday, or just decides to call it a day early and resume its business tomorrow, Sanders can raise the same objection again, potentially delaying the process for several days.

It turned out to be more symbolic than significant. Chairman Orrin Hatch vowed the committee would work deep into the night to get to a final vote, and they eventually came away advancing it by 20-6. Only Richard Burr voted no among the Republicans, while Democrats split: 7 yes (Wyden, Cantwell, Nelson, Carper, Cardin, Bennet, Warner), five no (Schumer, Stabenow, Menendez, Brown, Casey). Sherrod Brown had introduced 88 amendments, but most of them never got a vote.

Ron Wyden, the Administration’s stalking horse on the bill, was the only Democrat to vote with all Republicans to cut Trade Adjustment Assistance, basically a cash payoff for workers affected by trade bills. Wyden said specifically that he was acting with the support of the Administration on that.

Elsewhere, you’re starting to see how Senate Democrats will engage in opposition theater rather than obstructionism. Chuck Schumer, the next Democratic leader, passed a bipartisan amendment in the Finance Committee on currency manipulation, but only on a separate customs/trade enforcement bill, NOT trade promotion authority. “Schumer’s staff said he would not try to add it to the fast-track bill, which would be more problematic for Obama,” according to the AP. The customs/trade enforcement bill and fast track are designed to move together, says Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and he calls the vote a “huge win.” But a separate currency amendment in fast track, where I would argue it matters more because of negotiating leverage, failed. Schumer did vote against the bill, but he didn’t take the step that would have made the biggest difference.

Similarly, Harry Reid pronounced that he was a “hell no” on fast track, but also that he wouldn’t filibuster it. It only takes one for a filibuster, so Sanders could do it, but it doesn’t appear that the votes are there; just the Finance Committee Democrats plus all Republicans gets you to 60.

As for the House, where the outcome is more of a live ball, the Ways and Means Committee held a hearing Wednesday, with a markup scheduled today. The hearing had Jack Lew, Penny Pritzker and Tom Vilsack testifying. And with one notable exception – Ron Wyden’s Oregon colleague Earl Blumenauer, who said “I am comfortable with the overall outline, and knowing what I know will probably vote for it” – every Democrat I saw when I was watching was opposed, with every Republican in favor. That’s the committee, of course; these are the most bought-in (or perhaps just bought) Republicans on trade. It’s not necessarily indicative of how many Democrats might be needed to get the thing passed. Republican Tom Cole claimed 180-200 Republicans would vote for fast track, making Democrats the margin of victory.

Democrat Mike Thompson, who’s officially undecided, sure sounded like a no, asking Pritzker, “If this is supposed to be a win for American workers, is it coincidental that every American worker who has talked to me about this is solidly against it?” Joe Crowley, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who was about to get a rally at his district office from environmental groups, announced he was opposed. So did Xavier Becerra, chair of the caucus, who might have been U.S. Trade Representative in the negotiations if he accepted the Administration’s offer in 2012.

In the hearing, Becerra highlighted one of the more ridiculous justifications from the Administration. TPA has “negotiating objectives” on a number of topics, including currency manipulation. The currency objective has been touted by supporters as a historic precedent for curbing devaluation. However, Jack Lew sent a letter to Congress yesterday simultaneously citing the importance of the currency objective while saying it’s meaningless and must stay that way:

Many Members of Congress and various stakeholders have made a strong case in favor of addressing currency in the context of trade agreements such as the TPP, and we support the current draft of the TPA that includes a strong currency negotiating objective […]

In light of the currency objective that is included in the current TPA legislation, we began formal consultation with our TPP partners and had a number of these conversations last week during the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Our partners indicated a willingness to constructively discuss our concerns about inappropriate currency policies, providing an opportunity to work with them to develop an historic new approach to promote greater accountability. Nonetheless, all of the partners consulted have made clear that they will not support the introduction of enforceable currency provisions in the context of trade agreements, and specifically, the TPP. Our partners fear that a trade agreement with an enforceable currency discipline could constrain the ability of their monetary authorities to conduct appropriate macroeconomic policies, and that is a risk they are unwilling to take.

We have a serious concern that in any trade negotiation other countries would insist that an enforceable currency provision be designed so it could be used to challenge legitimate U.S. monetary policy, an outcome we would find unacceptable. Seeking enforceable currency provisions would likely derail the conclusion of the TPP given the deep reservations held by our trading partners. As such, any amendment to TPA legislation requiring that the Administration only seek enforceable currency provisions as a principal negotiating objective would undermine our ability to successfully conclude a TPP negotiation.

In other words, we’re willing to include an objective, but you know, we asked our partners and they don’t want to do anything about it, so whaddya gonna do?

This shows the total bankruptcy of passing Congressional negotiating “objectives” when the object of the negotiation has been under discussion for 5 years and is pretty much done. So Becerra asked Lew about it (rough paraphrase):

Becerra: Tell me how are you going to get these partners who want TPP to sit down at a different point in time?
Lew: They sat down in the G-20.
Becerra: Where are the teeth?
Lew: We’ve made progress and we plan to make more. But you can’t put something into the trade bill.
Becerra: I don’t disagree that we’ll keep trying to make progress. But this is the best time when you can make a deal because they want something, access to our markets.
Lew: In fairness, our markets are very open, we want access to markets that aren’t open.

So much to pick over. First, the admission at the end that we’ve sold out American workers through trade policy for the last several decades, and now we have no leverage to make it any better. Second, the idea that nothing in the negotiating objectives can be enforceable and tie the hands of the Administration, even as they swear up and down that these objectives will be adhered to. Lew made a point several times of saying Congress eventually has to approve TPP, and that “I don’t believe we can pass an agreement if we ignore the objectives,” when he knows full well that passing fast track will prevent filibusters or amendments on any trade deal, making it a “take it or leave it” scenario and much easier to pass than a regular bill.

My other favorite whopper was when Indiana Republican Todd Young questioned Pritzker, and she started going on about how these agreements will “protect our businesses,” in the context of intellectual property, particularly for biologic drugs. That was a bit of a giveaway that the deal isn’t as much about free trade as it is about locking in profits for large pharmaceutical concerns.

Ways and Means has a markup scheduled for today. Sander Levin is going to offer a substitute amendment that includes negotiating instructions rather than objectives, a separate certification process from a bipartisan panel that the instructions were followed on each trade agreement, and an enforceable mechanism to remove the expedited pathway for deals. It includes an enforceable currency piece, among other things. A summary is here. Nancy Pelosi supports the amendment, but her press statement is the linguistic equivalent of rice cakes: there’s nothing to it.

Ultimately the Levin amendment reflects an attempt to “get to yes” on the bill, and I’m not so keen on the “enforceable” standards placed on foreign countries without much history of compliance in the areas at issue, a point I plan to take up in a subsequent post. In political terms, the real question is how much support there is in the rank and file of the GOP, and whether there are enough Democrats to make up the difference. It’s a good time to keep the calls to the House flowing.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. jrs

    “Ron Wyden, the Administration’s stalking horse on the bill, was the only Democrat to vote with all Republicans to cut Trade Adjustment Assistance, basically a cash payoff for workers affected by trade bills. Wyden said specifically that he was acting with the support of the Administration on that.”

    that thing Wyden offered us a few days ago to make the fast track go down smoother? not that it meant anything, but already trading it away? Promises have a record short lifespan these days.

    1. jrs

      The parallels are striking though. Workers get no cash payout. What about their loss of EXPECTED FUTURE WAGES huh? If any loss of expected future profits can be compensated …. there’s definitely a loss of expected future wages here.

      I got tired of contemplating the absurdity of the whole thing, a trade deal however bad is at least somehow intellectually comprehensible, but this is more like Mr Burns blocking out the sun. If we much compensate corpses for the most basic things to maintain life, not even over centuries but here and now, like not poisoning the water supply so you know it doesn’t kill us, and contemplating if they really did like someone here says want to kill 6 billion and make it look like an accident (but first I guess they’ll come for the Colombian trade unionists).

      So I just dogwin the whole thing, loss of future profits from selling gas chambers you know, if the camps were liberated and a certain someone had the TPP. Those profits were EXPECTED to continue afterall …

    1. RUKidding

      It’s a done deal, so the 99s can just STFU. We don’t even have to like it. Too bad, so sad get used to it.

  2. jgordon

    This sellout “trade” deal is bound to kill off the host empire these parasites require to survive just that much sooner. So why not support it?

    By the way, I recall a certain someone frantically calling for more QE from the Fed when Obama’s reelection was a bit less than certain. Woah boy The Economy is firing on all cylinders today thanks to that, so much so that Obama is getting ready to thrust his big trade deal into the body politic. Good call on that. Just imagine if it had been Romney doing the deed instead. Unthinkable.

    1. RUKidding

      Indeed if Mitt RMoney had been “elected” (which didn’t happen bc someone hacked KKKarl Rove’s vote rigging in Ohio), why then this would surely be a terrible horrible most worstest thing. But of course, if Sainted Savior Barry O’Bomber is large and in charge, why TPP is a thing of beauty and a joy forever… just like how NAFTA was ever so great bc Bubba rammed it down our throats. hmmmm…. what’s next when Empress Hillary is large and in charge? I’m sure it will be just fabulous, too.

  3. Barry Fay

    This looks like a done deal already. Once again, the democrats will fail to establish themselves as anything other than Republican Light and then wonder when they keep losing elections. Oh, and Hilary or course has nothing to say – her of NAFTA fame! God help us.

    1. diptherio

      As per Gilens and Page, seeing as how all of the elites seem to be on one side of this one, I don’t know that we have much chance stopping it. Are there any big business types opposed to this? If not, we’re screwed, at least so far as Congress is concerned, and all we’ll get is some oppo theater for the rubes.

      Personally, I’m hoping the Japanese are going to tank the whole thing, or just drag out the negotiations indefinitely.

  4. Code Name D

    Opps, my Corruption Sense just went off. The NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping is going to expire soon and is unlikely to be renewed. But the TPP appears to include a provision that lets them openly spy on any one in the name of free trade.

    There is something more here than meets the eye.

  5. Steve

    This is kabuki theater. We all know the outcome. The Democrats will huff and puff but in the end enough of them will vote for it to pass it. The Democrats are craven tools.

  6. TedWa

    I can’t believe my Senator Cantwell actually voted yes. Wrote her a long letter this morning and will call her later as well as Senator Murry and my Reps. What is wrong with these people. They’re going to have to live with this abomination and all the harm it causes, and that alone will be their shameful legacy.

    1. petal

      Sadly, they don’t care because they are probably already counting their future dollars as a result of this policy. They will never feel a thing-it’s the rest of us who will suffer.

      1. TedWa

        I think her heart is in the right place because she desperately wants to improve Washington States exports and raise economic standards here, but she’s being deluded or deluding herself into thinking this is about free trade when it’s not about free trade at all – as we all know.

        1. RUKidding

          Your state’s Senator actually has a heart? Amazing news. Sadly hate to inform you that if she does, indeed, have a heart, it most likely turned black from all of her greed a long time ago. Color me jaded and skeptical.

        2. John

          She, and all the others shoving this down our throats are committing treason by ending U.S. sovereignty this way.
          So it hardly seems her heart is in the right place.

  7. Kokuanani

    I too was shocked to see that my Senator, Cardin, voted “yes.”

    Off to compose “strong letter.”

  8. timbers

    I getting the sense TPP will pass. Not much rallying to Liz Warren on FB, and FB dems are mostly silent on TPP.

    1. RUKidding

      TPP is & has been a “done deal.” Whatever else you see is just window dressing/Kabuki Show.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      It’s not whether it will pass or not.

      It’s that if it doesn’t pass the first time, there will be a second time…and a third time.

      The bills you and I want, if they fail the first time, they die and never to be resurrected.

  9. Eureka Springs

    So is this all just a way to both give away the soul of labor (everywhere, not just U.S.) and sovereign standards of any sort whilst hogtying more countries to the dollar in a way which supersedes oil pegging via vast printing by uncle scam for unaccountable ultra national corporate conglomerates? All of which operates for the most part in secret…

    And shouldn’t one of the most important questions for congresscritters be… Did you go down to the private reading room and read the text of the TPP in person with someone looking over your shoulder before making your decision on fast track? Or did you read leaks on wikileaks, Public Citizen and Naked Capitalism like I did?

  10. mike marks

    Each, of the following Trade deals, promised to create millions of American jobs….
    We have lost 10 million American jobs and 60,000 US factories have moved overseas.

    Australian FTA
    Bahrain FTA
    CAFTA-DR (Dominican Republic-Central America FTA)
    Chile FTA
    Colombia FTA
    Israel FTA
    Jordan FTA
    Morocco FTA
    North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
    Oman FTA
    Panama TPA
    Peru TPA
    Singapore FTA
    Trans-Pacific Partnership

    1. RUKidding

      If only US citizens weren’t such lousy lazy freeloaders expecting something for nothing, then all of these jobs would not have been shipped overseas, doncha know?

      I was lectured/harangued the other night by someone (who appeared to me to be just barely hanging on by her fingernails to remain in the lower middle class) about how US workers are “completely lazy” and how “outrageous” (her words) it is that US workers expect their employer to pay them for sick leave, vacation time and health insurance. Just outrageous, I tells ya. This woman “does not believe” that employers “owe” workers such things. We should only be paid for time worked. No doubt she also thinks the majority should be a paid a pittance and tug our forelocks when our employers deign to pay us. I don’t get the attitude, myself, but that was the lecture I received (unasked I might add).

      When US citizens have been so thoroughly propagandized to believe that they/we are not worthy of: a) decent, living wages, b) reasonable benefits; c) safe working conditions, etc – what hope do we have? I see Letters to the Editor in my nooz paper routinely echoing similar sentiments. We are all supposed to “stand on our own.” Got it?

      1. jrs

        Alternatively maybe it’s not a question of “owed” (although I do think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the exact 180 degree opposite of the TPP – rights for people versus no rights for people and only rights for corporations) but is and always has been a question of power.

        If so she’d be better off if workers had more power …. rather than capital having all power.

        1. RUKidding

          IMO, if, as a worker, I work hard and do a good job, I feel that I am “owed” some compensation, which includes some coverage for sick/vacation time + healthcare benefits, from my employer. I feel that the corporate fascist propaganda has been very effective in inculcating the notion that somehow employers – aka the vaunted so-called job creators (who, let’s face it, often create those jobs via a HUGE amount of govt largesse – as in, our taxes enable the corporations to not only be in business but to make giant profit$$$) – “work so hard” and their staff are just lazy freeloaders who don’t deserve almost anything.

          Yes, this woman’s interests, imo, would be much better aligned with workers, but she was exceptionally PROUD of the fact that she was a free-lance tutor who only got paid for her time working & received no benefits at all… and felt that everyone else should be in the exact same position, and then “society would be better off” (a quote). I don’t know if she’s riven with jealousy, fully nuts, or just totally brainwashed…. or a combo of all three.

          It was an interesting discussion, but rather scary, too.

          1. John

            Combo of all three. Plus, stupid.
            Even though I’m sure as a tutor she thinks her intellect is superior to many.

  11. susan the other

    It is absurd to think that all the TPP nations can trade their way simultaneously to prosperity. That doesn’t even happen in a theoretically real world. Can’t help thinkin’ we’re just reinventing the Minotaur. It will be business as usual in order to have at least some business for our favorite megacorporations. Japan isn’t budging on anything but their wording, and not much there either. But we are going to congratulate Japan for joining the TPP like they did it by the rules. We are doing all this in order to keep “capitalism” on life support; we are going to foist this on the whole planet. And we aren’t fooling anybody. I think maybe that’s why Schumer put his head in his hands and looked cornered. So why not look at “capitalism” straight on? Stiglitz is out there saying that we don’t have capitalism, we have false capitalism. Corporatism, aka monopolies. Labor doesn’t have a chance. So unless and until wealth is evenly distributed by the monopoly capitalists, we will have god awful inequality. Today, inequality is clearly the goal.

    1. hunkerdown

      Why? What do the elites need a Constitution for, and what so great has the Constitution done for the rest of us that couldn’t have been done better and easier any other way?

  12. John Yard

    And in 2016, during the Democratic convention, you will see a rainbow coalition ( black, hispanic, white, male, female ) carrying signs saying “Save the Middle Class”. Looking forward to it.

  13. redleg

    I wonder if a single legislator has the guts to motion that the text of the TPP be read or entered into the record prior to the vote. I am aware that the fascists classified the thing.

  14. vidimi

    i don’t have much to add except to say that this has been one thoroughly depressing read. abandon hope all ye who enter here.

  15. John from Northern California

    I don’t believe enough has been made of the timing of the TPP.

    It is close enough to the 2016 elections that there would probably be little immediate effects as the long term payoff to vested interests happens over time.

    If the effects of TPP are good, then the Democrats will not get any credit from the Republicans, as the Republicans will say that they wisely pushed for the TPP as they dragged the Democrats along.

    If the effects are bad, then future Republicans can blame it on Obama and the Democrats while silently doing everything to avoid future changes as the TPP benefits “their people”.

    The Republicans will “have their cake and eat it too.” courtesy of Obama + crew.

    This is a great handout to the elite class from Obama and the Wall Street Democrats.

    I believe the Democrats and Republicans both know the costs will be quietly diffused on the “great unwashed” who don’t pay politicians’ campaign bills or fund their subsequent lobbyist lifestyle while the profits will go to the favored elite.

    I remember my high school civics teacher (at a Los Angeles county public school, 30+ years ago) saying this: “When a politician says he cares for the common man, see who he goes to dinner with, see who he plays golf with, it’s not the common man.”

    Maybe Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are outlying exceptions to this observation.

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