Fast Track Really Comes Down to the Filibuster

This thought has been nagging the back of my mind for a while, so I’m glad Greg Sargent has clarified it for me. In a detailed discussion of what will happen to TPP (and future trade agreements) if Trade Promotion Authority (a.k.a. “fast-track”) is passed, Greg reaches the conclusion that the only real difference between “before” and “after” fast track is the inability to filibuster.

Perhaps the TPP should not be subject to a filibuster — after all, many Dems want filibuster reform. Perhaps it should be easier for Congress to pass the deal than to revisit it — after all, that might be necessary to make it possible to negotiate it with other countries in the first place.

The “easier to pass the deal than revisit it” reference is about the ability of TPP supporters to filibuster an effort to repeal or modify fast track after it’s enacted, as opposed to the provision in fast track itself that guarantees the TPP itself an up-or-down vote.

But in any event, where does that leave anti-filibuster hardliners? You know, like me?

It’s an uncomfortable question, and one that raises a lot of doubts about Democratic attitudes towards the filibuster if Republicans win the White House next year. After all, this is a rare case involving a bill that a Democratic president and most congressional Republicans support, and that most Democratic members of Congress (particularly in the House) oppose. Most of the time right now, the filibuster isn’t a factor for Democrats, since the reality or threat of a presidential veto stops most GOP-backed legislation before it’s even taken up in the Senate. With a veto off the table, it seems virtually all Senate Democrats are willing to play the 60-vote-Senate rule just like Republicans have in the past. If they are going to draw a line between good and bad filibusters (other than the executive and judicial appointments they earlier removed from the filibuster via the “nuclear option”), it would be a good thing to start talking about it.

Meanwhile, fast-track opponents who love to talk about the procedure creating a “rubber-stamp approval” process need to recognize they are emulating the Republican habit of treating 60-vote approvals as normal. If the idea is that everybody’s just going to be a hypocrite and support whatever set of rules maximizes their power at any given moment, we might as well understand it.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.