We Democrats all admire Obama. But unlike the stereotype, we don’t worship him. We’ve had a lot of problems with many of his policies. And I do mean “we.” Obviously, as a functional Democrat — I’m a member of the party because it is the more liberal of the two major parties, not because I agree with it — I have even bigger problems with President Obama. But he has never been so clearly outside the current thinking of the Democratic Party as he is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). So now was a really good time for the Democrats in the House of Representatives to say what needed to be said, “Suck. On. This.”
Here’s what’s happened. There aren’t enough Republicans in the House who are willing to give fast track authority for the TPP. So in order to win over Democrats, the House has tried to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). This is a program that is supposed to help workers who are displaced by the TPP. Now you have to wonder, if the TPP is going to be so great, why does it need a special program to help workers who will be laid off. What’s more, we’ve seen this same thing in previous trade deals. And as much as it works, it only ends up in allowing workers to find worse jobs. From my perspective, it is just a matter of providing political cover to politicians.
When the House voted on the TAA today, it went down to a stunning defeat: 126-302. The House plans to try voting on it again next week, but clearly Obama has a very big hill to climb. Assuming that the Republicans stay where they are, Obama will have to win over 92 of the 144 Democrats who voted no today. It’s curious because TAA is something that Democrats agree on. In theory, it is a good program. So the vote against it is a vote to stop the TPP. It’s interesting to note the other bill today, the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority — fast track) was passed by a very small minority. The Republicans are eager to screw over the American worker with TPP, but don’t want to provide even the lame TAA to make it slightly less painful.
The TPA still has a very good chance of going through. And a big part of the problem can be found in Greg Sargent’s article on the vote Friday morning, Liberals Plot New Way to Blow Up Obama’s Trade Deal. Apart from the obvious bias in the headline, Sargent consistently refers to proponents of TPP as “pro-trade” — implying that opponents are “anti-trade.” This is absolutely untrue. In fact, an argument can be made that exactly the opposite is true. But this has been the line from The Washington Post all along: nonstop TPP apologetics. It’s sad to see it coming from a reasonable guy like Sargent.
I’m sure that Obama will continue to push the TPP along. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be anything during his presidency that he’s felt so strongly about. I don’t remember him working so hard on Obamacare or the Public Option. Then it always seemed that whatever would be, would be. He was the zen president. But this, he thinks, will be totally fantastic. And for him it might be. But if he gets it, he may end up with a Johnson legacy: Obamacare was good, but unfortunately, he saddled us with that horrible TPP that Scott Walker eventually tweaked to make even worse.
But I could be wrong! Just because the TPP is being sold with the exact same arguments — often in the exact same words — doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be totally different than those. If Obama weren’t just the second coming of Bill “we will no longer accept uneven trading relationships” Clinton, I might be inclined to rethink it. But TPP will be the same as all the trade deals that went before. It will be hugely successful at making the rich richer and poor poorer. That will be your legacy Mr President. You must be so proud.