By Doug Porter
On Tuesday morning the US Senate passed a procedural measure effectively granting Fast Track Authority for the executive branch on trade pacts. The vote was 60-37, exactly the number of yes votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
Proponents of the legislation say the trade pacts it will likely enable are needed for US companies to be competitive in the world marketplace. Opponents point to the reality that the only “winners” from past deals have been stockholders as hundreds of thousands of domestic jobs have simply vanished. The President promised to negotiate a better deal.
Republican leaders, according to the New York Times, found a parliamentary maneuver allowing them to separate a companion law defeated in the House of Representatives that threatened to block passage of the bill.
According to The Hill:
Thirteen Democrats backed fast-track in Tuesday’s vote, handing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a major legislative victory. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) voted against the procedural motion.
The Democrats cast “yes” votes even though the trade package did not include a workers assistance program for people displaced by increased trade. The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program was a part of the last fast-track package approved by the Senate in May, but became a key part of opposition to the package among Democrats in the House.
The campaign against the fast track authority has been epic, pitting Republicans along with corporate Democrats against organized labor, the progressive wing of the Democratic party and environmental groups.
If there was a silver lining to all this it is the lines of communication created in building the coalition against the measure.
Vermont Senator and populist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a statement reflecting disappointment in the result of the vote:
“The vote today – pushed by multi-national corporations, pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street – will mean a continuation of disastrous trade policies which have cost our country millions of decent-paying jobs,” said Sanders, who voted no.
“American workers deserve a trade policy that works for them and not only for the CEOs of major multi-national corporations. We cannot continue trade policies which outsource good jobs to low-wage countries overseas and lead us into a race to the bottom,” Sanders added.
The legislation would let the president negotiate an agreement that Congress could vote up or down but not amend. The measure also lacks a provision to help workers in the United States who are thrown out of jobs because of trade deals.
Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, held out hope that public pressure on Congress could stop stop a deal perceived to be bad, even on an up or down vote:
Today’s action means that Congress will tie its hands to prevent it from exerting positive influence over negotiations of the TPP. It means that the final TPP agreement will very likely include provisions empowering foreign corporations to sue our own government for policies that they claim impinge on their expected future profits. It means that the final TPP will very likely include provisions that will extend Big Pharma monopolies, raising prices for consumers and health systems – and, even in the United States, and especially in the poorer TPP countries, denying people access to needed medical treatment. It means that the final TPP will very likely include provisions undermining our food safety.
What it doesn’t mean is that Congress must pass such a TPP. When the inexcusable and anti-democratic veil of secrecy surrounding the TPP is finally lifted, and the American people see what is actually in the agreement, they are going to force their representatives in Washington to vote that deal down. Members who fail to do so can expect their constituents to hold them accountable.
Today’s Senate vote, as an affirmation of neo-liberal economic policies, was symbolic of a much larger question facing the American people: whether or not the “market” should be the ultimate arbiter of public policy.
The Trade Debate May Not Be Over (UPDATE)
George Zornick at The Nation took a look down the legislative highway and sees some hope:
Once fast track passes tomorrow (there is only a 50-vote requirement post-cloture, which this bill will easily achieve) and Obama signs fast track, the fight turns to the highly controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Sometime in the late summer or early fall, the Obama administration will finally release the full TPP text, after the president signs it. After 90 days, Congress can vote on it.
Without question, fast track makes the TPP much more likely to pass. No amendments can gum up the process or chase off support, and we already can easily see there are 50 votes in the Senate based on the fast-track votes. But the House remains no sure thing for the TPP. Fast track twice passed by only two votes.
When the TPP actually comes out, there will be some really ugly details that are likely to enrage liberals and solidify opposition among Democrats. For months the White House has been dodging some criticisms of the TPP by stressing that the text isn’t final, but that will no longer be an option.
The unknown details of the TPP, incidentally, are what Hillary Clinton cites for not yet having an official position on the trade deal. If the Democrat base gets truly riled up when the details do come out, she may end up opposing the deal. This would give cover for every congressional Democrat to do the same.
Members of the House will also be in the thick of their reelection campaign this fall, and increased progressive activism and actual primary challengers will no doubt make a TPP vote even harder.
GOP in a Quandry Over Obamacare
After years of promises Republicans may be forced to put up or shut up on how to address the issue of affordable health care.
The Supreme Court’s pending decision on the legality of subsidies coming from the federal government in states refusing to set up health care exchanges could make for some tough choices for GOP legislators.
For the moment, it appears the answer will be to do nothing.
(Or as they often say, let the market take care of it…)
Republicans for months have been planning to use a fast-track budget procedure to extend Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court strikes them down — all while completely gutting the underlying law.
But just days before the court’s ruling, the party is still grappling with the question of how much of the law to repeal, in part because of its exorbitant cost.
The plan to use the expedited procedure — called reconciliation — is in flux as lawmakers realize they would have to come up with hundreds of billions in spending cuts to pay for a full repeal of Obamacare. And some Republicans aren’t sure they want to go there.
A new cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office underscored the magnitude of the task: The budget scorekeeper last Friday said a full Obamacare repeal would add $353 billion to the deficit over the next decade. That price tag jeopardizes the GOP plan to use the expedited legislative process for a full repeal because any bill that uses the fast-track procedure, such as subsidy extensions followed by a fuller repeal, must reduce — not increase — the deficit.
Defenders of the GOP faith have tried to sidestep discussions over Obamacare with spurious arguments. While I personally would prefer single-payer, the fact is that the Affordable Care Act has had more positive than negative effects.
From The Hill:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey shows that the uninsured rate for adults under 65 dropped from 20.4 percent to 16.3 percent from 2013 to 2014.
That is the largest drop since the survey began in 1997, and comes after the rate has been fairly steady for the years before ObamaCare’s coverage expansion took effect at the beginning of 2014.
The survey comes on the heels of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated that 19 million people would lose insurance in 2016 with the repeal of ObamaCare.
A major threat to the law’s coverage expansion looms with the Supreme Court case of King v. Burwell, which could invalidate subsidies that help 6.4 million people afford insurance in 34 states using the law’s federally run marketplaces. A decision is expected within a week.
The survey notes that Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare also has a major effect on the uninsured rate. Twenty-nine states have accepted the expansion, but some Republican-led states are still holding out.
Lack of Quality Scandals Decried on Capital Hill
Something to smile about…
(WASHINGTON D.C.)—The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold hearings early next month to grill Obama administration officials about a lack of quality scandals originating in the White House, sources say.
“We’ve exhausted all of our leads and didn’t turn up a thing,” said a Republican committee member who asked to remain anonymous. “Solyndra, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the tan suit—even our ace in the hole, Benghazi, is a big nothingburger and at this point we’re down to investigating rounding errors in office supply expenditures.”
Added the source: “We’re going through crossword puzzles over here faster than crap through a goose. Every day is the same—crickets.”
The committee will order the White House to dig as deep as possible and turn over all relevant documents that will lead them to at least one impeachment-worthy scandal. “If they fail to comply, then we’ll have no choice but to investigate the lack of investigation-worthy misdeeds during the president’s second term,” said the source. “And his first term, we’re not real picky at this point.”
Thanks to Bill in Portland Maine for the satire above. (Via Daily Kos)
Think the Civil War is over? 4 in 10 Republicans support secession: http://t.co/F3EDyRr2LA
— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) June 23, 2015
On This Day: 1868 – Christopher Latham Sholes received a patent for an invention that he called a “Type-Writer.” 1972 – President Nixon and White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discussed a plan to use the CIA to obstruct the FBI’s Watergate investigation. 1978 – OSHA issues standard on cotton dust to protect 600,000 workers from byssinosis, also known as “brown lung.”
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