"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Ted Cruz: Flip-Flopper”: Supports Trade Agreements As Long As They Don’t Contain Anything Related To Immigration

It might surprise you to hear someone say that Ted Cruz is a flip-flopper. He’s built an entire reputation on being nothing if not consistently conservative. But when it comes to an issue that reporters like Scott Bland suggest are animating Trump supporters – trade – he did a huge flip-flop.

Back in April of last year, as Congress was preparing to vote on Trade Promotion Authority (so-called “Fast Track”), Senator Cruz wrote an op-ed in support of it with none other than Rep. Paul Ryan. As we all know, Ryan is now the Republican House Speaker – a position that places him at the center of what Cruz calls “the Washington cabal.” So he not only supported giving President Obama “fast track” authority on trade deals, he joined forces with the cabal to speak out it favor of it passing in Congress.

A short two months later, Sen. Cruz voted against TPA, citing “concerns over unrelated legislation and a separate trade deal, the Trade in Services Agreement, which he asserted could impact U.S. immigration law.”

As it stands right now, it would seem that Ted Cruz supports trade agreements as long as they don’t contain anything related to immigration. That might be an interesting question for a reporter to pose to the candidate on the campaign trail or at an upcoming debate.

On the one hand, Cruz might face criticism from the “job creators” if he changes his tune and comes out against trade deals. On the other, he could hurt his chances with Trump supporters if he embraced them.

Attempting to obscure and pander on the issue of trade agreements is not the first time Cruz has changed his tune on an issue. He did the same thing with his position about H-1B visas – he was for them before he was against them. What a flip-flopper!


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 11, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Immigration, Ted Cruz, Trade Promotion Authority | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“From TPA To TPP; A Trade Deal Explainer”: A Mix Of Policy, Procedure, And 2016 Politics

There is no shortage of acronyms or confusion surrounding the trade deal legislation being debated in Washington.

Hillary Clinton weighed in on the trade debate Sunday during a campaign stop in Iowa. Or maybe she didn’t. Or she did, but not in the way people thought she did. Confused or frustrated yet? You’re not alone. Between TPP, TPA, TAA, TTIP, and any other number of letter t-laden acronyms, it has become difficult to pinpoint what, specifically, lawmakers are actually talking about as this process moves forward. That’s a problem.

Trade policy is complicated. Congressional procedure is complicated. Politics are often deliberately made complicated by lawmakers or candidates who see limited benefit in weighing in on thorny or increasingly complex issues. The ongoing fight on Capitol Hill over trade combines them all—a mix of policy, procedure, and 2016 politics. That means it’s probably worth breaking down a few top-line points on all three.

The policy

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the name of the 12-nation trade talks that are currently ongoing. There is no deal, though Obama administration officials say they are closing in on one. President Barack Obama has made reaching a deal on TPP one of the top goals of his second term and a cornerstone of his foreign and domestic policy agenda. It is also a top priority of Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Many Democrats, stung by past major trade agreements, are skeptical of the direction of the negotiations. But it’s important to note, again, there is technically no deal … yet.

Think about negotiating with 11 other countries. They’ve all got their own politics, their own legislatures, and their own powerful industries. How could you possibly get all 11 to agree on the same principles, let alone a specific trade deal? It’s not easy. So it would make sense to create a mechanism to try and streamline the process, right? Meet the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA is not the trade deal (again, that’s TPP). It is, more or less, a procedural mechanism designed to ease the passage of any deal. TPA, also known as “fast-track,” doesn’t prevent lawmakers from voting on a final deal, but it does prevent amendments. Obama administration officials say explicitly they need TPA to reach a final agreement on TPP. Other nations, as Obama’s team explains it, simply don’t trust that the U.S. can get a deal through Congress untouched without it. (This is a serious point of disagreement between Obama and Democrats opposed to the trade deal.)

While TPA is not (repeat: is not) the actual trade deal, it does require legislation and a vote. Democrats opposed or who are wavering on trade see that bill as one of the last points of leverage should Obama actually finalize a deal. If TPA passes and Obama’s team reaches an agreement on TPP, there’s little confidence within the ranks of those opposed to a deal that momentum could be halted at that point. For a unified labor movement, progressive activists, and Democrats opposed to the deal, that has painted TPA as a must-kill item on the agenda.

The procedure

Last week House Democrats chose to vote to sink their own priority, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), in order to slow down Obama’s (TPA). So what the heck does this have to do with TPA? Well, nothing really. Except that program, used to provide aid to U.S. workers displaced due to trade, is expiring. Democrats, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the program, saw an opening in the TPA legislation and it became the vehicle to extend (and actually expand) the program.

House Democrats opposed to the underlying trade negotiations quietly settled on a strategy to deliberately kill their own priority in order to re-set the broader trade debate. That meant voting against TAA, even in the wake of (and perhaps because of in some cases) personal lobbying from Obama. In an interesting twist, House lawmakers actually had the votes to pass the TPA measure separately, but without TAA attached, that goes nowhere for the moment.

Obama and Republican leaders are now left with trying to find another route to get TPA to the president’s desk. One possibility is swinging a huge number of Democrats who just a few days ago voted against TAA. That seems unlikely, save for an epic weekend of lobbying by the White House legislative affairs team. But House and Senate leaders can get quite crafty when it comes to passing bills they badly want to move. So it’s safe to say there’s more to be written in this story.

The politics

The procedure and the policy have presented a political conundrum on the campaign trail for Clinton. She was Obama’s secretary of state when negotiations on TPP started and was supportive at the time. But the party continues to hold a general distrust for trade deals. As Clinton presses for a “better agreement” and leaves the door open to eventually supporting a final deal, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have made attacking the trade deal a central point of their campaigns. Both weighed in to oppose TPA.

Clinton, for her part, has held her fire, instead broadly focusing on the need for a strong final deal on the TPP. There’s a reason. Read through the previous sections above. Does that sound like a process a presidential candidate would want to explain on the campaign trail? No. Especially not when the underlying issue is so divisive among the most activated members of the party, as it is for Democrats. Clinton, on Sunday, was talking about the broader trade negotiations, not the specifics of the fast-track legislative process. That, it appears, is something that her team has decided there is simply no benefit to weigh in on. As Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday: “The back and forth that’s happening right now is about procedures and parliamentary this and that.”


This stuff is complex, and that’s even before one gets into the specifics of TPP itself—an enormously important negotiation that touches on just about every sector of the U.S. economy and more than 40 percent of the world’s. That, in a nutshell, is exactly why figuring out what each lawmaker or candidate means when they say something on the issue, matters. No matter how many times they use the letter “T” in the acronyms.


By: Phil Mattingly, Bloomberg Politics, June 14, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Economy, Election 2016, Trade Promotion Authority, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Votes Boehner Didn’t Deliver”: And Therein Lies The Problem, Republicans Didn’t Really Do Their Part

After this afternoon’s drama in the U.S. House, Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office issued an interesting statement, effectively saying, “Don’t look at me.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement after the House failed to pass legislation reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program:

“The outcome of today’s TAA vote was disappointing. Republicans did our part, and we remain committed to free trade because it is critical to creating jobs and growing our economy. I’m pleased that a bipartisan House majority supported trade promotion authority. This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stock and move forward in a constructive fashion on behalf of the American people.”

The assertion that Boehner was disappointed by the TAA vote, but “Republicans did our part,” stands out. Strictly speaking, it’s not quite right.

Here’s the roll call on today’s vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance. Notice, 86 House Republicans voted for it, while 158 voted against it. Had the House GOP voted for the measure in greater numbers, “fast track” would be on its way to President Obama’s desk for a signature right now.

And therein lies the point: Republicans didn’t really do their part, so much as they voted for the part of the package they like (Trade Promotion Authority) and voted against the part of the package they don’t like (Trade Adjustment Assistance).

Clearly, the principal focus today is on House Democrats, and for good reason – President Obama made a direct appeal to his ostensible allies today, and few of them were swayed.

But let’s be clear about the broader dynamic: House Democrats are in the minority. In fact, it’s the smallest Democratic minority in the chamber in generations, and it’s not really up to them to decide what passes and what doesn’t.

Over at Vox, Timothy B. Lee had a good piece on this under-appreciated angle to the politics of the trade fight.

In principle, most Republicans are in favor of the president’s trade agenda…. But most House Republicans weren’t willing to spend the $450 million per year contemplated by the Senate bill on Trade Adjustment Assistance. That’s why House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was forced to resort to a complicated scheme where Democrats would have to approve TAA while Republicans approved the rest of the bill.

If you buy the arguments for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many Republicans profess to, this seems crazy. One influential study from the Peterson Institute estimated that the trade deal would generate $78 billion of economic benefits for the United States. Of course it’s worth taking this kind of projection with a grain of salt. But even if we assume it’s exaggerated by a factor of 10, the deal’s benefits still dwarf the $450 million annual price tag of TAA.

And yet, Boehner barely tried to get TAA through his chamber today, and he mustered up just 86 votes.

In fairness, that’s still more than double the number of Democratic votes the White House was able to secure, so it’s not as if Obama is in a position to call up the Speaker and complain. For that matter, it’s possible Boehner will pull together more votes early next week.

But as the dust settles on today’s fight, and as Round II takes shape on Tuesday, let’s not forget that Boehner is supposed to have great influence over what clears the House, and if he supports “fast track” as much as he claims, he can do some heavy lifting – or at least try to.

Lee’s report concluded, accurately, “[I]f the TPP collapses, they’ll bear some of the blame.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 12, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | John Boehner, Republicans, Trade Promotion Authority, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Exactly The Same As Others”: Procedural Dissolution Resolution Included For The First Time In TPA

Yesterday the Senate failed to pass a procedural vote on granting the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or so-called “fast-track“). As Ed Kilgore noted, this is probably not the end of the line for TPA. It will likely be brought up again very soon.

As I read commentary about the debate on this legislation, I often see an assumption that this TPA bill is exactly the same as others that have been approved in the past. Statements like this one from Senator Elizabeth Warren are regularly repeated.

The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done.

Here’s Steve Benen saying basically the same thing.

At issue is something called “trade-promotion authority” – also known as “fast-track” – which is intended to streamline the process. As we discussed a month ago, the proposal would empower President Obama to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiating its specific provisions. If successful, the White House would then present a finished TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote – with no amendments.

Lawmakers would effectively have a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity.

And finally, here’s Caitlin MacNeal:

“Fast track” authority would limit Congress to a simple up or down vote on the TPP without amending the deal.

That’s pretty much how TPA is being described across the board. Those statements would be accurate if we were talking about trade promotion authority that has been approved in the past. But for the first time, the current TPA bill (you can download it from that link) contains the ability for Congress to pass a “procedural disapproval resolution” after a particular trade agreement is presented to them. Such a resolution can be presented for several reasons, but the most likely would be that it fails to adhere to the “trade negotiation objectives” outlined in the bill (IOW, a pretty open door). If such a resolution were to pass, it negates trade promotion authority and consideration of the agreement would then be open to amendments and a filibuster.

All of this is available to Congress AFTER a negotiated trade deal has been finalized and made available to the public. In other words, lawmakers would have three options:

1. Approve the trade deal
2. Reject the trade deal
3. Pass a procedural disapproval resolution and open up debate on amendments

Such a resolution would require 60 votes in the Senate to pass. But given that the opponents of TPA required 60 votes to approve it, the fact that dissolving it also requires 60 votes makes sense.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 13, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Fast Track, Senate, Trade Promotion Authority | , , , , | Leave a comment


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