June 7, 2015
With the fight over the NSA surveillance of Americans in the rearview mirror lawmakers now shift their focus to another Obama legacy item, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. The Pacific Rim multi-national, multi-trillion dollar trade treaty will affect a broad swath of workers in the US as well as globally. Journalists are forced to speculate on what may or may not be included in the final agreement because the White House and Republicans insist on absolute secrecy of the 800-page text. The same secrecy the GOP chastised Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats six years ago, remember Obamacare?
Last week Rasmussen’s monthly poll cited American’s discontent with the country. Only 28 percent feel the country is headed in the right direction. That dismal number has been met with deaf ears in Washington, DC and lawmakers are pushing a trade bill that they have admittedly not read. It’s 800 pages and been kept so secret that if lawmakers want to read the bill they have to go into a room without their cell phones and hope they can remember the legalese that typically makes up complicated legislation. For those politicians that have read the text, most say it’s not good. This of course conjures up memories of Obamacare, except this time it’s the Republicans who are saying to the American electoral pass now and read later.
The Obama Administration, which touts itself as the most transparent in American history seems hell-bent on secrecy to gets its agenda through a do-little Congress, case-in-point, Obamacare, the Iranian Nuclear deal, the Sergeant Bergdahl hostage exchange and now the TPP. With the secrecy component in mind, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange offered a $100,000 bounty for any text on the TPP deal.
It’s hard to understand why President Obama is pressing full steam ahead when his bread and butter supporters, the labor unions and his party are his biggest critics. House minority leader Pelosi said she could only deliver 18 votes, well short of the 50 or so required to pass the TPP trade bill in the House. Being an optimistic guy, President Obama told a Seattle TV station last week; “I’m pretty confident we’re going to be able to get this done.” He may have an inside track because two weeks ago the Senate did pass the legislation despite ardent disapproval from both sides of the political aisle.
Senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) was discussing over the weekend the text of the TPP trade deal and remarked that it “boggles the mind” that the White House has kept the secret. In a Breitbart News interview, Paul said, “Who’s in charge of the administration that decides to keep a trade treaty secret? To keep it classified makes no sense at all.”
Paul, who has filibustered major legislation the past few years, complains the trade deal would remain filibuster proof. “They claim you’ll get to see it, again but you’ll only get an up-or-down vote with no amendments. Also, they get rid of some of the rules on — I guess it’s not, you can’t filibuster it either. It passes with a simple majority,” he said. For those wondering why Paul didn’t take the Senate floor on this abrasive deal, now know his own party is keeping legislation filibuster proof—what a country.
Nevertheless, last month Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers they would have at least 60 days to read the final text. This, if true, would give voters the opportunity to chime in and pressure their representatives one way or the other, but like most DC promises, it seems the GOP Congress has opted for backroom deals that skirt the American people.
What is the TPP?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Act grants the power to the president to negotiate and approve any trade deals with foreign countries giving the Senate the authority to approve or disapprove the entire trade bill, without any amendments or clarifications. All future deals with Pacific Rim countries would basically come down to a simple majority “yes” or “no” vote from lawmakers.
Furthermore, Congress is asking the people to believe that President Obama, who has had questionable foreign policy successes (Read: Regime change train series: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and Egypt), to suddenly be vested with the experience and knowledge to bind American labor and capital markets to the president’s vision of world economics? The fundamental question should be; would this trade deal be good for the US? Is it conceivable that American labor would be forced to compete with worldwide labor rates in underdeveloped nations? The American standard of living was the envy of the world although several nations have now surpassed the US.
So what drives this assault on American labor? Is big business (that holds $100’s of billions in profits offshore), the Chamber of Commerce leaders and lobbyists (graph with Goldman Sachs here) driving the lobbying effort to enact more regulation set to hinder the little guy/average Joe?
There is no question that antiquated US tax policies financially punish American businesses that bring the cash/profit home are partially at fault. Big corporations could be distributing the profits as dividends that, in turn, could be used as investments in America.
But the TPP appears to be a disingenuous piece of legislation that suggests free trade with much poorer Asian nations, with annual wages that are a fraction of the US wages, will encourage poorer nations to buy more expensive American-made goods and services that will benefit American labor. However the other side of the argument is more plausible. Pacific Rim nations can and will access American markets duty free and will be able to sell their lower-labor-cost products to American consumers, which will force lower American labor rates while concurrently, lower the average American standard of living. So, “why does the government hate American workers so much?”
One of the goals might be to raise standards of living of the Pacific Rim countries; unfortunately it’s at the expense of the American worker. Currently, more than 46 million Americans receive food stamps. Nine of the TPP partners average 64 percent of the US individual per capita GDP of $55,000. Plus the US economy is presently rated 131st in the world for GDP growth and some economists say this deal would further undermine American families.
Again due to the government’s secret actions, speculation about the text of the deal includes an 11 nation governing council that will make the rules for the operation of the TPP and will adjudicate all disputes between member nations and private companies affected within the TPP. Strangely, any disputes resolved by the governing council will be final without US court review, due process, or equal protection AND any funds ordered to be paid by the governing council will be paid directly from the treasury of the member nation found liable for breach of the agreement or other forms of damages.
Sadly, it appears another agreement involving European members that follows the same format as TPP is just around the corner, but again, EU lawmakers say the details are cloaked in secrecy.
The draftees (who also remain secret) say the deal will generate increased sales of more expensive American goods and services, but ask any American manufacturing workers how North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) worked out for labor?
As summer gets underway Congress has recognized an opportunity to move the unpopular legislation before presidential politics pick up steam. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said; “If we don’t get it done in June, I don’t know why you’d think we can get it done in July.” The unlikely presidential ally has been coordinating with the White House privately promising a majority in the House.
However, on the Democratic side, Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) says, “We need to get this finished. We’re gonna get it done. People have been contacting me now for about seven or eight months, [and] 100 percent of them have been asking me to vote no.” The Congressman who represents New Orleans said the White House has been lobbying for a yes vote. “And I told the president in our conversation that he was the first call asking me to vote for it. And I think that shocked him that my business community — considering I have the large port and all these other businesses — have never reached out.”
The obstacles supporters of the trade bill face remain purely political. If lawmakers reside in a safe district, they appear to follow their party leaders, but if the last election turnout was indicative of the American people, they don’t trust either party. So far the Republicans don’t have the 217 or 218 votes to pass the Senate TPP bill. Conservatives and Libertarians remain wary of surrendering more authority to a president they don’t trust.
“We could wait another 18 months until this administration is out,” Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) said. “You look at how they negotiated the release of the Taliban Five; you look at how they negotiated what they’ve done with Cuba; look at how they’ve negotiated what we’ve done with the Iran nuclear deal — I personally don’t want them negotiating anything else.”
But former vice presidential contender, Rep. Paul Ryan argued that the trade deal (allegedly) “constrains the president, requiring administration officials to follow guidelines set by Congress and frequently brief lawmakers about any progress in negotiations. Members also can sit in on the talks.”
Ryan’s pitch to conservatives said the deal could curb Iran’s nuclear program if this trade proposal was on the books. “It puts Congress in charge. It empowers us, not him,” Ryan explained. “It brings more accountability, more transparency, more congressional control over the process.” Really?
Gearing up for the vote later this week, Republicans say they are slowing racking up support with one Republican aide saying, “The momentum is on our side.”
But the deal’s opponents are zeroing in on Minority leader Pelosi because if she votes no on the deal, then vulnerable Democrats will have sufficient cover to stand against the president.
Suggesting the TPP’s sponsors expect cuts in the American labor force, a provision has been included in the legislation with a $700 million offset provision called the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, a piece of the TPP providing health insurance, retraining and other assistance for displaced American workers. The cost of the program is said to come from cuts to Medicare. But liberal lawmakers Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), of the Progressive Caucus, said more than 50 House Democrats wrote to Boehner and Pelosi last week warning them that cutting Medicare would undermine a program that 50 million seniors heavily rely on.
Pelosi responded to leadership and said that not only does the provision have to be paid for, but also the cut could not come from Medicare. “Let’s not take it at a place that hurts the very people that we’re trying to help.”
Read previous TPP “ All roads lead to Beijing & Dems question Obama’s TPP trade deal story here
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