Do Democrats Trust Obama Not to Sign TPA Without TAA?
Why Washington State senators need the Export-Import Bank to be reauthorized
by Gaius Publius
House Democrats, 28 of them, handed Obama and House Republicans a win by passing Fast Track, called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, as a stand-alone bill. The bill yoked to it by the Senate — an "assistance for workers" bill called TAA — was cut loose. Fast Track now goes back to the Senate for consideration by itself.
You'll see much analysis of the various ways this could play out. But the bottom line in the Senate is, do Democrats, who passed TPA when TAA was part of the package, pass TPA as a stand-alone?
If they do, TPA, Fast Track, goes to Obama for signature — in other words, he gets his win.
What's to prevent that outcome? There are several hostages that have to be rescued first.
Hostage One: the Export-Import Bank
One problem is that several senators, notably the Senators from Boeing, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, made renewal of the Export-Import Bank a condition of their Yes on TPA vote. Will that happen? McConnell promised a vote on the "Ex-Im Bank" but now it looks like he's waffling. If he allows such a vote, will it pass? And if that gets to the House, will it pass there, where the Ex-Im Bank is hated by many Republicans? Stay tuned.
Hostage Two: The Trade Adjustment Assistance Bill
Then there's the assistance bill itself, TAA. It does almost nothing for workers screwed by "free trade," but it does a little bit. Republicans have called it a "sop to Democrats." Others have called it a "fig leaf" because it allows Democrats to go to their districts and say, "Sure I voted for the Next NAFTA, but I got you this assistance bill, so I'm really on your side after all. Love me?"
Some Democrats really want the assistance bill; some really want to act like they want it; and some just need it to confuse the voters at election time.
The questions: Will these senators settle for a promise from Republicans that TAA will get votes in the House and Senate? If they get these votes and they don't pass, is that enough of a fig leaf, or has it gone so transparent by now as to be invisible?
And three, do they trust Obama not to sign TPA the minute he gets it; do they trust him to wait for a TAA bill to reach his desk as well?
I heard Nancy Pelosi say in her talk before the TPA vote that she trusts Obama. And Obama spokesman Josh Earnest has said Obama will wait for both bills before signing Fast Track. From a press release by Public Citizen's Lori Wallach after the vote:
Meanwhile, House GOP lawmakers remain strongly opposed to TAA and Ex-Im reauthorization. As House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated today, there is no clear path for enactment of TAA. Yet yesterday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama requires both Fast Track and TAA to come to his desk.But what if they don't both come to his desk? Or what if TAA doesn't come quickly enough?
Salon's Jim Newell on just those questions:
Here’s how the fast-track fight ends: Why it all comes down to ObamaWhich means for Senate Democrats, it's all back to taking Obama at his word:
... The basic idea of the [latest] strategy, as reported elsewhere, will be to separate legislation renewing TAA and TPA: no more logrolling or vote-splitting measures. Each would be faced to fend in the wild itself. First the House would pass TPA, sending it to the Senate. Then the Senate would take up a TAA bill, which it will have attached to another bill, the AGOA — “African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, which boosts trade from some sub-Saharan African countries” — that is popular among Democrats. Once the Senate has passed TAA, that should be enough for the “pro-trade” faction of Senate Democrats to join Republicans in passing TPA, which will thus be sent to the president’s desk. Since TPA will have already passed, House Democrats will have no tactical reason to oppose TAA anymore, and so they’ll pass the Senate-passed AGOA-TAA bill. The idea is to bend House Democrats to the White House’s will by making passage of TPA “a fait accompli,” as one House Republican aide tells the Huffington Post.
Would this plan deny House Democrats all of their leverage? That all depends on one man: President Obama.
Obama has insisted that both TAA and TPA reach his desk before anything gets signed. White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated that in his Wednesday press briefing[.]
The president, then, needs to be willing to break his word in order to bring House Democrats to heel. If TPA is on his desk and he won’t sign it without TAA, then House Democrats have a relatively obvious strategy: don’t pass TAA after it’s sent from the Senate as part of whatever legislative vehicle. Then President Obama won’t sign TPA.And Obama?
If President Obama is willing to sign TPA before TAA reaches his desk, though, then House Democrats will have officially lost on TPA and might as well go along with TAA. But there’s another risk that this entails for the White House: Obama signs TPA and then … John Boehner never calls up TAA, because Republicans don’t like it and they’ve already gotten what they wanted.
You’ve got to ask yourself: What does President Obama really want here? He wants TAA and TPA, but… he wants TPA more, because that will help him to complete his big, beloved, legacy-gilding trade deal. Do you think he’s just going to let House Democrats stick up their noses at him indefinitely while he’s already got fast-track on his desk, gathering dust? Don’t count on it.Yep. Don't count on it. As badly as Obama has shown he wants this, don't expect him not to eat it the minute it's served up to him.