The Magic is in the Diversion of Attention

June 13, 2015

Yesterday House Democrats joined in an unusual alliance with “conservative” Republicans to kill Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), “which would have provided government aid to workers who had lost their jobs because of free trade agreements….” [1] This is being presented as a defeat for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, but there is reason to question that.

First of all, after TAA went down to defeat in the House of Representatives, House Republicans managed to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), otherwise known as fast-track, legislation that would require a straight up or down vote on the TPP. The Senate previously passed a version of TPA that included TAA. [2] Because of the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, the two houses will have to go into conference to hammer out the differences before the law can be presented to President Obama for his signature.  

Let us suppose that the House ultimately acquiesces to having TAA as part of its legislative package. In that case, yesterday’s vote will turn out to be nothing more than symbolic, and the law will proceed to the president’s desk for his certain signature. That, in turn, will make passage of the TPP a foregone conclusion, because there are Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and the TPA prohibits filibustering on the TPP in the Senate. [3] On the other hand, if the House holds firm on not including TAA, the Senate could sardonically agree to pass a TPA law, and, subsequently, the TPP, without any protection for displaced workers at all.

Secondly, there is reason to suspect that House Democrats will ultimately buckle to pressure from the Obama administration. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, has indicated that “she would be willing to play ball on the trade package -- but at a cost.” [4] Apparently her condition for passage of TPA legislation is the “‘passage of a robust highway bill.’” Thus, Ms. Pelosi has already commenced negotiating against herself.  

The presence of TAA legislation in the controversy is telling. It is an acknowledgement by all concerned that the TPP will indeed cause American workers to lose their jobs. But why would members of the American Congress pass legislation that would have such a result? Who are they representing? Who are these people who govern us?

Jack Quirk