TPP, TPA, TAA, Angry Democrats, and “The Week that Obama Won”

I like to say that I am economically liberal. For me that means: globalization and trade liberalization are good. If we can involve more people in global trade that will both help developed nations and developing nations. More people will be lifted out of poverty as they get encircled by the ever growing ripples of influence spread out by global trade flows. Globalization prevents conflict, because no one wants to fight someone who keeps giving them money and stuff. Both corporations and workers benefit because the increased availability of jobs in lower income nations allows impoverished people to gain a leg up and begin to enter the middle class while the blue-collar workers in developed Westernized nations can focus on high skilled labor and on intellectual tasks like inventing the products. Overall people benefit. And, if a country starts failing, there are organizations like the IMF and the World Bank that are there to catch them before they fall. Free trade is good. Tariffs and protective taxes shut out countries from the international competition that fosters growth.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is the largest potential trade deal since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), involving twelve Pacific Rim nations that account for 40% of the world’s economy. It is being negotiated on the precedent of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the Clinton Administration’s signature trade legislation. The TPP opens Asian markets to US imports and exports, maintains US influence in Asia, hedging against the rise of China, and has the potential to jump-start stalled negotiations in Doha that the WTO hosted in 2001 to break down trade barriers. Great! I love it! Let’s go!

Wait, what. Negotiations have been going on for 12 years. How hard can it be to write a simple trade deal? If I had my way, the TPP would just say- I’ll give you stuff if you give me stuff. But I guess its not that simple. It turns out that TPP is huge. Its like an omnibus bill in Congress- anyone can add pork-barrel amendments or poison pills. Congressmen who don’t want the FTA to pass or don’t have another way to get appropriations for their state’s newest death-ray laser cannon mounted on a statue of a cat attach riders onto the TPP that everyone is just going to have to swallow if we’re going to liberalize trade. Ok fine. So can I at least see what kind of toxic discharge has been dumped onto TPP? I want to know what damage is going to be done. NO?Apparently no one can even READ what it says! People speculate that its probably pretty bad for us- the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research estimated in 2014 that 90 percent of Americans would see a decrease in real wages as a result of TPP. Where’s my money going? Oh wait, I can’t know. Only corporations with stakes in the text as well as some labor unions have seen the text, not the public, nor, most importantly, Congress. And according to an op-ed from Democratic Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), “this agreement would force Americans to compete against workers from nations such as Vietnam, where the minimum wage is $2.75 a day. It threatens to roll back financial regulation, environmental standards and U.S. laws that protect the safety of drugs we take, food we eat and toys we give our children. It would create binding policies on countless subjects, so that Congress and state legislatures would be thwarted from mitigating the pact’s damage.” Ouch.That’s rough.

So now what? The result has been that even liberal Democrats have run like flies from TPP, siding with labor unions who complain loudly that they’re losing money every time some poor sap in Southeast Asia gets a job that no proud American would want to do. House Democrats sabotaged their own bill, slapping President Obama in the face and voting down the TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) portion of the TPP- a program that would provide worker retraining for laborers who lost their jobs in the US as a result of the TPP. It seemed that Democrats, already in the minority in Congress, would get pulled to the left much like the Tea Party pulled the GOP way right in 2010 and 2012. A sad end indeed for the hopes of a lame duck president whose greatest achievement in his second term seemed to be the 2015 Correspondents’ Dinner. But our friend in the West Wing was not to be dismayed. President Obama remembered that there are Republicans in Congress. Sure, they have spent the past seven years loudly disavowing and sabotaging Obama, but apparently Democrats hate him even more now. Obama and John Boehner grabbed each other’s hands and pranced into the sunset. The GOP whipped enough votes on the other side of the aisle to smack down the Democratic insurrection before Nancy Pelosi could get a new gavel printed, and in fast succession, the Senate and then the House gave Obama the “fast track” TPA (Trade Promotion Authority). This legislation allows Congress to vote on trade legislation for TPP only as presented- up or down without any pork-barrels or riders. Fantastic. Oh wait. Not only that, but TPA requires disclosure of any agreement 60 days before its signed and way before Congress gets to vote on it. What a win all around.

Interestingly enough, although this alone would have made the past week pretty good for Obama, dry legislation agreements had no place in the news cycle this week. Liberal Americans were hit with a tsunami of good news- Republicans joining in one voice against the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina State Legislature, the King v. Burwell decision that cemented Obamacare, the Obergefell v. Hodges and other related cases that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, not to mention Obama’s newfound confidence, with his speech on gun control, eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and singing Amazing Grace for 5,500 mourners. With all this hullaballoo- as deserving of such as it may be- the momentous heave forward in TPP negotiations has been largely forgotten. I ask that it not be. This is a big win for liberals, just like Obergefell. Let’s not forget that this week has also had massive ramifications for the liberalization of the entire world, in places that are in dire need of it.

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