A Look At The “Trade” Votes That Will Happen Today In the House

Dave Johnson

After a narrow and suspenseful 217-212 approval Thursday on a procedural vote, the House is scheduled today to have a series of debates and votes that could lead to passage of “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) for the still-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and future trade agreements.

A trade bill involving sub-Saharan Africa already easily passed on Thursday. Votes on two more bills today will lead up to the big vote on fast track, which essentially preapproves the TPP.

Customs Bill

A bill on customs and trade law enforcement is being “loaded up” with amendments that will be attached to the fast-track TPA law, after (and if) fast track passes. These include amendments that would forbid the U.S. from doing anything through the trade agreement to address climate change, restrict actions to fix immigration laws or allow more visas, require trade laws to expand markets for Alaskan seafood, as well as other items intended to “buy votes” for fast-track TPA from reluctant Democrats. The customs bill also tries to get Democratic votes by undoing a provision that cuts Medicare in order to “pay for” trade adjustment assistance for workers who will lose their jobs if TPP passes.

Democrats who vote for the customs bill are voting to approve the ideological amendments added by Republicans. Many Republicans may choose to vote against fast-track TPA if the customs bill does not include the ideological amendments.

Trade Adjustment Assistance

Before the fast-track TPA vote there will be a vote on trade adjustment assistance (TAA). If TAA does not pass, many Democrats who have declared support for fast track could vote against it after all.

TAA provides job training and other limited assistance to workers directly laid off as a result of jobs forced out of the country because of TPP. You could call it “burial insurance” for those workers. It does not provide assistance to the people laid off from the supply chains providing materials to the closing factories, or to the people laid off from grocery, clothing and stores near closing factories, to the people who are laid off because of the grocery and clothing and other stores as the ripple effect of our trade policies hits communities.

Previous “trade” deals along the lines of TPP have had the effect of “deindustrializing” our economy, forcing factories to close and jobs to be “offshored.” Entire regions have been devastated by the results of offshoring from trade deals designed to lower wage and environmental costs and increase corporate profits. It is feared and expected that TPP will drive these policies home with a vengeance.

For example, TPP removes a tariff on imported shoes to benefit and reward Nike for pioneering the offshoring of shoe manufacturing. But New Balance has tried to retain manufacturing inside the U.S. Because TPP lowers this tariff, New Balance will be pressured to cease U.S. operations and the company’s U.S. workers will need assistance and retraining – so they can compete with still-employed workers for any remaining jobs inside the U.S., should there be any, thereby driving wages down further and increasing corporate profits.

Republicans are largely opposed to providing this assistance to workers laid off as a result of our “trade” policies. Such assistance keeps wages from falling, which keeps corporate profits from increasing faster as worker costs drop. It is expected that fewer than half of Republicans – not more than 50 or 100 – will vote for TAA. So TAA requires a large number of Democrats to support it.

The TAA bill has passed the Senate. Senate Republicans cut TAA funding by 21 percent from current levels, excluded public-sector workers from receiving any assistance and required that Medicare be cut to pay for what remains. Yet several Democrats agreed and voted for the bill. Now with the bill before the House, House leadership is trying to lure Democratic votes for the TAA bill by changing the funding from Medicare cuts in the sub-Saharan Africa bill, while retaining the ability to use the recorded TAA vote to cut Medicare against them in the coming elections.

The AFL-CIO has come out against TAA. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, has stated his opposition to the TAA bill. Many Democrats who support fast-track TPA will find it political difficult to continue to do so without assistance for the workers who will lose jobs as a result of their support.

Fast Track

After the TAA vote comes the fast-track TPA vote.

If the fast-track process is approved, Congress will not be able to amend the TPP, whatever ends up being in it. Congress would be allowing itself only limited debate and would have to give it an up-or-down vote within a very limited timeframe, with no filibusters.

No other kind of treaty or law is granted an exclusion from the transparency and process requirements of the Constitution. So-called “trade” agreements, however, are believed to be unable to pass if the public and Congress is allowed to “meddle” and “interfere,” which could cause the agreements to need a more lengthy negotiation period.

Also, recent “trade” agreements involve several countries at a time instead of resolving trade issues that are particular to the U.S. and another country.

Not Really About “Trade” At All

This is widely called a “trade” vote, but from what is known about the actual TPP agreement (it’s secret from the public) it is largely about things other than what would usually be understood as trade. For example, one provision called investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) has been leaked to Wikileaks so it is known that it allows corporations to sue governments for laws and regulations that interfere with the corporation’s ability to collect current and “expected” profits.

Another leaked provision revives the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that Congress killed a few years ago. Yet another extends patents and copyrights far beyond what Congress has approved.

The Hill has been maintaining a “whip list” of who is for or against the fast-track bill. As of late Thursday, 118 Republicans and 20 Democrats were either declared or leaning “yes” votes. There were 44 Republicans and 135 Democrats declared or leaning “no.” That left 33 Democrats and 83 Republicans in the “undecided” column.

Especially the members who are undecided need to feel the heat from you to vote against fast track. If you have not made that call to your member of Congress, use our click-to-call tool to make that call now.

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