Fast Track To Palookaville

So Trade Promotion Authority is scheduled for a House vote today, and it’s going to be close, apparently because securing the twenty-five or so Democratic votes needed for passage has become dicey. TPA’s prospect among Democrats may in turn may depend on the prior passage of a bill to reauthorize Trade Adjustment Assistance, which some Republicans oppose as “welfare.” So it’s all a messy conflict that has grown in controversy at so rapid a pace that the prevalent question today (posed but not answered by William Finnegan at the New Yorker) is why Barack Obama is so adamant about the underlying Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why he is using tactics (secrecy and shrill insults aimed at opponents) guaranteed to alienate people in his own party?

The more you listen to the rhetoric coming from the administration on TPP, the more it seems getting congressional agreement for it has now become, completely separate from its merits or demerits, a matter of U.S. global prestige, and thus a geopolitical or even a “national security” issue. We have to have TPP because, well, we’ve led the charge to negotiate it, and it would be a China-enhancing setback to shelve it now. Congressional Democrats, many of whom reflexively oppose trade agreements to begin with out of a determination to protest NAFTA to the end of their days (that’s pretty much Bernie Sanders’ position, too), are not about to buy a sort of “American exceptionalism” argument by which Americans must sacrifice their interests to those of multilateral corporations as a matter of “global economic leadership.”

By refusing to engage Democratic critics of TPP, the administration has brought itself to this juncture where it’s relying on John Boehner and Paul Ryan to get TPA and then TPP through the House.

Because I hate the filibuster and also agree we will never have another trade agreement, good, bad, or indifferent, until the end of time if it can be amended after signature in Congress, I am inclined to support “fast track” as a matter of principle, even as I am increasingly inclined to oppose TPP as having little to do with “trade” or international prestige (at least for the self-confident country I thought we were) rightly understood. That may make me a party of one. But very deliberately the president has made this an issue where he cannot much county on the loyalty of Democrats as a party of many.

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.