By Robert A. Vella
It’s crunch-time for President Obama’s neoliberal Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He has two legislative windows remaining before he leaves office – one before the November election, and another in the lame-duck session of Congress afterwards. Republicans, who control both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, have ruled out the former because any attempt to pass the TPP beforehand would anger their populist base and damage whatever chances their struggling presidential candidate (Donald Trump) has in winning the White House. Regarding the second window, GOP leaders have been insisting they’re reluctant to bring up a vote on the TPP during the lame-duck session due to insufficient support among their members and because approving it would be criticized as enabling President Obama’s agenda – a no-no in conservative circles. Still, the actual election results may change this political dynamic.
But, the pressure on Republicans must pale in comparison to that felt by Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
From Campaign for America’s Future – President Tells Congress TPP Is Coming Their Way. What Will Clinton Do?:
One day after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton strongly underscored her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in a speech in Detroit, President Obama officially started the clock on a lame-duck congressional vote on that agreement.
Politico has the story, headlined “Obama puts Congress on notice: TPP is coming“:
The White House put Congress on notice Friday morning that it will be sending lawmakers a bill to implement President Barack Obama’s landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a move intended to infuse new energy into efforts to ratify the flatlining trade pact.
The submission of the draft Statement of Administration Action establishes a 30-day minimum before the administration can present the legislation, but it is unlikely to do so amid the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign that has depicted free trade deals as major job killers.
With Sanders pledging to do everything he can to stop a lame-duck vote on TPP, Clinton’s statement of opposition, no matter how strong, will not be seen by TPP opponents as doing enough. At some point she has to break with President Obama and fight Bernie-style to stop it. That requires more than words. She hasn’t yet called on Democrats to vote against TPP and didn’t call on Obama to withdraw it.
Her problem is credibility. Too many do not believe she is not really opposed, only saying so to get votes. For example, Ian Fletcher, writing in “It’s Alive! Obama Moving Forward with TPP After All” at The Huffington Post:
There had been some speculation – and hope – that soaring public opposition to the pact had put it on indefinite hold, but no.
Hillary Clinton, despite pretenses to the contrary, fairly clearly supports this thing, so this is no surprise.
From Mother Jones – How a Wonky Trade Pact You’d Never Heard of Became a Huge Campaign Issue:
Until very recently, grousing about the pitfalls of global trade was seen as akin to complaining about the weather. One could no more stop China from dumping cheap imports than outlaw El Niño. And besides, the deluge of foreign goods would in the long run lift all boats. Or so we were told—before Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump begged to differ.
In a year of seething resentment toward the political establishment, support for “free trade” is no longer a given within either party. Even Hillary Clinton, whose husband famously signed NAFTA into law, has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a sweeping trade deal she helped set up as secretary of state.
MJ: As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton helped set up the negotiations for TPP, so it was surprising when she came out against it in October. Did you see that coming?
LC: Gradually. The pressure was enormous. I think she made a very careful calculation: If she had not come out against TPP, she would have lost to Bernie Sanders. She never could have provided enough cover to the national labor unions that endorsed her campaign without that flip.
MJ: What is your take on how the trade backlash happened within the GOP?
LC: It’s voters. Hillary Clinton would say the same thing. “I listened to voters.” People get it. They look at the numbers about jobs or incomes or the trade deficit, and they see the results.
MJ: This stuff is obviously important, yet when politicians talk about it, people’s eyes often glaze over. How do you keep voters engaged?
LC: Only by saying to people quite bluntly, “This is not about trade, it is fundamentally about the way in which large foreign corporations rig the global economy.” We need to have plain, simple language that regulates the global economy where we count just as much as the richest corporations in the world. That’s what people react to.
[Clarification by The Secular Jurist: MJ = Mother Jones, LC = Larry Cohen president of the Communications Workers of America and recently a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders]
I highly recommend reading the entire Mother Jones interview with Larry Cohen. It contains very specific real-life examples of how these free trade deals are damaging the middle class.