Friday, August 23, 2013

It feels weird to say this, but Michele Bachmann is right here: Exec power and the TPP

Yesterday, POLITICO reported on a group of unlikely allies working to reassert congressional authority:

What could conservative Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Walter Jones and liberal Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro possibly agree on?

They all want to limit President Barack Obama’s ability to “fast-track” international trade deals.

The three representatives are gathering lawmakers’ signatures on letters that seek to block Obama from using the fast-track process called Trade Promotion Authority, which limits Congress to up-or-down votes on free-trade agreements and bars all amendments.
First of all, I'd like to highlight this as a rare example of constructive bipartisanship in the public interest. Normally, I adhere to the principle of "Beware of Congresspersons bearing bipartisanship" because bipartisan gangs tend to indicate that the parties are joining together to screw over people at home or abroad. But here we see bipartisanship in the public interest. And as strange as it feels to say so, Bachmann is right, and Obama is wrong here.

Why is "fast track" authority an important issue right now? Well, Obama wants to use that authority to continue to ignore Congress and sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal before Congress even gets to see it.

Why should you care about the TPP? The Nation's Zoe Carpenter spells it out for you:

Those who say these deals are going to create thousands of jobs and increase exports, they don’t talk about imports—which are just as important, if not more so,” said Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute. According to his analysis, in the year after Obama’s recent agreement with South Korea was finalized, US exports fell, South Korean imports rose and the US trade deficit to South Korea increased by nearly 40 percent, costing some 40,000 jobs. The TPP could worsen income inequality, too.

Significant as its economic impact could be, the TPP is only marginally about trade. Just five of the twenty-nine draft chapters cover traditional trade matters, according to Ben Beachy, the research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The rest of the deal, he said, “could rewrite broad swathes of domestic policy that affects our daily lives, from Internet browsing to what we eat for dinner.”

“For corporations, the TPP is a convenient back-door means of undermining public interest policies that they oppose but are not able to undermine through domestic legislation,” Beachy said. If enacted, all existing and future US law would have to comply with the treaty, or the US could face trade sanctions. Environmental, health, food safety, human rights and Internet freedom protections could all be limited by the TPP. The deal could derail attempts to rein in Wall Street, making it impossible to regulate risky financial products, implement a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions or enforce size limits on big banks and capital controls.

Corporations, meanwhile, would gain vastly expanded privileges over federal, state and local government. A draft chapter leaked last year detailed the inclusion of a legal structure, called an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, that would essentially allow multinationals to sue a government if they believe a policy infringes on their rights. A tribunal unaccountable to any electorate would decide the case and the damages owed, with no option for appeal. Similar investor-state rules have been included in a number of other free-trade deals, including NAFTA, and cases are surging, as are the damages awarded. Last year corporations won 70 percent of disputes. 
Bachmann and Jones are reaching out to the Republican caucus with their letter. DeLauro is reaching out to Democrats with hers. POLITICO excerpted part of DeLauro's letter:

In light of the broad scope of today’s trade agreements, it is even more vital that Congress have a fulsome role in shaping these pacts’ terms,” DeLauro’s letter says.

“Given our concerns, we will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’s constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes,” it adds.

Back in June, Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke out against the administration's secrecy in the TPP negotiations, noting that the Obama administration has been even less transparent than the Bush administration on such issues. Congressman Alan Grayson has also been a vocal opponent.

Also in June, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin organized a letter from 36 freshman Democrats demanding more transparency from the White House. The following signed onto this letter:
Ron Barber (AZ-02), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Ami Bera (CA-07), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Tony C├írdenas (CA-29), Matthew A. Cartwright (PA-17), William L. Enyart (IL-12), Bill Foster (IL-11), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Pete P. Gallego (TX-23), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Alan Grayson (FL-09), Steven A. Horsford (NV-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Hakeem S. Jeffries (NY-08), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Annie McLane Kuster (NH-02), Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Daniel B. Maffei (NY-24), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35) , Richard M. Nolan (MN-08), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), Eric M. Swalwell (CA-15), Mark Takano (CA-41), Dina Titus (NV-01), Juan Vargas (CA-51), and Marc A. Veasey (TX-33) 
 In 2002, Congress last voted to re-authorize fast track authority. The Trade Act of 2002, as it was called, barely passed the House--a close vote of 215 to 212. 25 Democrats broke from party line to support it, and 27 Republicans broke from their party line to vote against it. Only six of the defecting Democrats are still in Congress:

Susan Davis (CA-53)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Adam Smith (WA-09)

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer both voted against giving fast-track authority to Bush. Will they be willing to do so under Obama?

The Senate back in 2002 was even more willing to concede authority to the executive, passing the Trade Act of 2002 by a vote of 64 to 34. 43 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 1 Independent (Jeffords) voted for it. 29 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted against it. The Democrats who voted for fast-track back in 2002 that are still with us are Diane Feinstein (CA), Tom Carper (DE), Bill Nelson (FL), Mary Landrieu (LA), Max Baucus (MT), Ron Wyden (OR), Maria Cantwell (WA), and Patty Murray (WA).

Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer voted "no" back then. Would they do so again under Obama? I recommend giving a call to your representative and senators in Washington and encouraging them to vote against giving up their authority as a deliberative body on this issue.

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