Yesterday, Senate Democrats blocked the bill that would have given President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate trade deals, subject only to a Congressional up-or-down vote later. Though this battle is far from over, this raises the possibility that Democratic opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could ultimately succeed in derailing it by scuttling the Fast Track process itself.
Now opponents of Fast Track may have inadvertently been given some new ammunition by an unlikely source: Staunch TPP-advocate Mitch McConnell.
In an interview with John Harwood, McConnell said that Republicans should support Fast Track authority, explicitly because — and here’s the rub — it will empower the next GOP president to negotiate trade deals more easily, despite Democratic opposition to them in Congress:
“If we had a Republican president right now, not a single Democrat would vote for Trade Promotion Authority. So what I’ve said to my members, if we want the next Republican president, who we hope will be sworn in less than two years from now, to have a chance to do trade agreements with the rest of the world, this bill is about that president as well as this one.”
McConnell added, by way of illustration, that Fast Track is a “six year bill.” Expect Democratic opponents of Fast Track to grab on to this. It dovetails nicely with the argument they are making: That Fast Track could ultimately undermine achievements like the Dodd Frank financial reform bill.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and others worry that a GOP president taking over in 2017 could use Fast Track to undermine Wall Street regulations through a back-door route. As Warren puts it: “We are already deep into negotiations with the European Union on a trade agreement and big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to use that agreement to water down financial regulations.” The basic idea is that Fast Track authority would allow such a trade deal to pass with a simple majority in the Senate, precluding a Dem filibuster.
Obama vociferously rejects that argument, insisting that the TPP can be written to completely protect against any weakening of regulations. And we may not be able to settle this aspect of the dispute until we see the deal.
But on Fast Track in particular, McConnell — in the course of reassuring Republicans worried about granting Obama vast authority — is basically confirming one element of the left’s concerns: That Fast Track will empower a future GOP president to negotiate terms of a future trade deal with less worry about the ability of Democratic opposition in Congress to stop it. This is a legitimate concern, whatever you think of what it means for Wall Street regulations in particular.
Of course, Warren and her followers may ultimately be irrelevant to whether Fast Track passes the Senate. That’s because there is a bloc of Democratic Senators generally in favor of TPP who are still holding out for changes to the Fast Track bill (such as a provision curbing currency manipulation), and will probably support it if they get what they want, allowing it to pass the Upper Chamber. But in the House, if enough Republicans oppose Fast Track (because they don’t want to give Obama expanded authority over anything), Fast Track’s fate could turn on how many House Democrats oppose it. And there, opponents of Fast Track may put McConell’s quote to good use.
UPDATE: As expected, critics of Fast Track are pouncing on McConnell’s quote. Here’s a statement from Senator Elizabeth Warren, sent over by her office:
“I agree with Senator McConnell. This fast track bill isn’t just about President Obama’s desire for free trade with Asia. It’s a six-year bill that would give any future Republican president enormous power to more easily undermine laws they don’t like — including financial reform.
“The next trade deal under consideration is with Europe, and Senior Administration officials have publicly acknowledged the threat to financial reform in future trade deals. There’s already enormous pressure from European officials, from Republicans, and from giant banks both here and in Europe to use the next trade deal to undermine financial rules. This President supports financial reform, but he has not explained how he — or anyone else — can stop the next President from caving to the big banks in the next trade deal.”
* DEMS PROPOSE COMPROMISE ON ‘FAST TRACK’: Senate Dems yesterday blocked Fast Track because they also want to vote on provisions curbing currency manipulation (which Obama opposes) and boosting trade enforcement, which Mitch McConnell won’t allow. Now Dems have offered a compromise:
First, hold a separate vote on legislation aimed at discouraging so-called currency manipulation by American trading partners, which could be vetoed by the president. Then, wrap the fast-track authority he is seeking with a more encompassing bill, including assistance for displaced workers, extension of an African trade accord and other trade enforcement measures.
As noted yesterday, such a compromise could induce a sizable bloc of pro-trade Dems to support Fast Track, meaning it could still pass in the end. Over to McConnell….
* HOUSE TO PASS SURVEILLANCE REFORM: Today the House of Representatives is expected to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which would end much of NSA bulk metadata surveillance. At this point, the only obstacle is in the Senate, where Mitch McConnell is still pushing to extend bulk surveillance until 2020.
But with rising bipartisan support in the Senate for ending bulk surveillance, McConnell may ultimately have to relent. The broad support in the House is the latest sign that there is a durable left-right alliance against it that may win one this time.
* HORRIFIC TRAIN DERAILMENT IN PHILADELPHIA: An Amtrak train derailed last night in Philadelphia, killing at least six people and hospitalizing at least 140. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, on Morning Joe today, said it should raise questions about the U.S.’s approach to infrastructure:
“It’s a horrible crash, and it just points out again how terrible our nation’s infrastructure is…If you went to Asia, Europe, and saw the high-speed trains, they’re all on a dedicated line, they’re all straight as an arrow. It’s just embarrassing what we do with our infrastructure.”
Expect more of this.
* JEB TRIES TO CLEAN UP IRAQ MESS: After seeming to say he would have invaded Iraq even if he knew what we know now, Jeb Bush calls Sean Hannity and tries a second take:
“I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. I was talking about, ‘Given what people knew then, would you have done it?'” Bush told Hannity on his radio show….Given a do-over on the question of what he would have done, Bush said: “I don’t know what that decision would have been. That’s a hypothetical, but mistakes were made, as they always are in life.”
That may not help matters, but it does helpfully illustrate the difficulties inherent in running for president as George W. Bush’s brother.
* AND MEET RICK SCOTT, ‘SOCIALIST GOVERNOR’: The latest out of Florida: Governor Scott is now calling for “profit sharing” by Florida hospitals to make up for losses they will sustain, now that the feds are phasing out the funding Florida Republicans want, even as they refuse to accept the Medicaid expansion.
A must-read Tampa Bay Times editorial tears into “Rick Scott, socialist governor,” explaining how the refusal to take the Medicaid money is creating a crisis for the state’s hospitals, one that only exists because Republicans want federal health care money as long as it isn’t part of Obamacare.