When Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was first being prepared for a vote in the Senate, Ron Wyden negotiated some changes that lined up with Democratic priorities. They included:
1. Any trade deal would be open for public comment for 60 days before the President signed it and 4 months before a Congressional vote.
2. Expanded “negotiating objectives” that addressed Democratic priorities for any trade agreement.
3. A “procedural disapproval resolution” that would allow Congress to end TPA if an agreement failed to meet their negotiating objectives.
4. The vote on TPA would be combined with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) – support for workers who are displaced by foreign trade.
As we all know by now, Speaker Boehner decided to hold votes separately on TPA and TPP. When House Democrats realized that TPA would likely pass, they voted against TAA (something they would otherwise support) as a way of stopping the whole process.
Progressives like David Dayen saw the pairing of these two bills as a “trick.”
What Obama was proposing was a trick, one used repeatedly to advance distasteful policies, by getting each side to vote only on the parts they like. And House progressives responded by saying they wouldn’t play that game anymore. If they can withstand the pressure, not only will trade be derailed, but the era of the split-vote gambit, where opponents help the victors, will be over.
What that kind of analysis misses is that this is how governing works – especially for a party in the minority. The process of negotiation and compromise means that people in Congress use the desire of the other party to pass something (leverage) as a way of getting something they want included. That’s why food stamps for poor people have always been included in the Farm Bill.
I suppose that people may have forgotten that this is how our government was designed to work since Republicans spent four years spreading the idea that “compromise” is a dirty word. But rejecting that path was exactly what President Obama’s message was all about when he visited House Democrats last Friday.
He specifically asked them not to play games with trade authority by sinking the related Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, which Democrats typically support as a salve for workers in the wake of trade deals, according to several sources in the room. Unions and some liberal Democrats have targeted that bill for defeat because a loss would kill the fast-track bill. And Obama gave the argument a partisan edge.
“I didn’t expect people to vote for it,” the president said of the trade power, according to one of the sources in the room. “I did expect we would play it straight. … What I don’t want us to do is to start becoming like the other party.”
It’s obvious that most House Democrats didn’t agree with the President. But if you are able to follow the complicated maneuvers Ed Kilgore outlined yesterday that the Republicans are working on for these trade bills, it’s clear that they’re prepared to negotiate once again.
There are some Democrats who, like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka, will not accept TPA under any circumstances. But that has obviously not been the position of people like Sen. Wyden and Minority Leader Pelosi.
“The overwhelming vote today is a clear indication that it’s time for Republicans to sit down with Democrats to negotiate a trade promotion authority bill that is a better deal for the American people,” Pelosi wrote to Democrats after the vote.
For those Congressional Democrats still committed to the process of negotiation and compromise, now is the time to step up to the plate and get as many of our priorities included as possible. Even though they’re in the minority, they’ve been given some leverage. It will be interesting to watch how they use it.