Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Would A Right Wing Extremist Like Steve Knight Vote To Give Obama Unlimited Power Through Fast Track Authority?


No one should have expected anything good coming from conservative New Dem Kathleen Rice when she joined the Republicans and other conservative Democrats to try to pass Fast Track authorization. John MacArthur, writing Friday for Harper's, said, "Rice last week reversed her opposition to fast-track the TPP. If history repeats itself she won’t be the only member of Congress to betray her working class and labor-union supporters."
The vote buying to pass fast-track authority in the House of Representatives-- legislation that will speed up secret negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement so dear to President Obama and his Wall Street and corporate allies-- has evidently begun in earnest. The latest recipient of White House largesse, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D., N.Y.) last week reversed her opposition to fast-track, already approved by the Senate, and if history repeats itself she won’t be the only member of Congress to betray her working class and labor-union supporters.

We can’t yet know what was promised to Rice, since the political deals that grease the way for unpopular legislation aren’t ordinarily announced in press releases or high-minded op-eds. The nasty facts tend to come out later, after the damage has been done. Nevertheless, we can assume that something is rotten in Rice’s district.

...I can just imagine what these “brokers” have been telling her, since the same sort of “conversations” went on during Bill Clinton’s wild and woolly campaign to round up votes for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Back then, the House’s Democratic leadership, under the tutelage of Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, was conning itself that NAFTA could be used to improve the environment along the Rio Grande and raise living standards and wages south of the border to a level closer to America’s.

Gephardt had set the tone of naïveté-- or cynicism, if you prefer-- when, at the first President Bush’s behest, he supported fast-track for NAFTA and smoothed its passage in 1991. At the time, the St. Louis congressman thought he could become president, so to appear more worthy of corporate campaign contributions, he “negotiated” with the elder Bush to insert labor and environment standards into future negotiations with Mexico and Canada.

Bush’s people were prepared to agree, since the negotiating would be done in secret and nothing enforceable would come of an “agreement” with Gephardt anyway. The whole point of moving production to Mexico is to take advantage of low wages and lax environmental rules.

Gephardt got nothing but lip service in exchange for his crucial vote. By the time President Clinton took over the NAFTA portfolio, opposition to the agreement within the Democratic Party had been weakened by Gephardt’s foolish gambit. But Clinton also faced right-wing Republican opposition, as well as that of Ross Perot, the billionaire independent who, when he ran for president in 1992, got 19 percent of the popular vote. Clinton had to purchase “peelable” Democratic votes to put NAFTA over the finish line.

Assisted by his chief lobbyists, Mickey Kantor, William Daley and Rahm Emmanuel, he bought members of the Florida delegation by committing the National School Lunch Program to buy more Florida tomatoes and corn; he bought the vote of Rep. Esteban Torres (D., Calif.) by creating the North American Development Bank, supposedly to fund infrastructure projects on the border; and he bought the vote of Rep. Bill Brewster (D., Okla.) by agreeing to go duck hunting with him and have their picture taken.

Like Gephardt, Kathleen Rice seems to think she’s onto something new: The Senate’s TPP legislation “outlines unprecedented requirements to address the worker-protection problems of NAFTA. It sets high labor and environmental standards, and ensures that trade sanctions can be imposed on any country that fails to meet these marks.”

I wish I knew the going rate for such nonsense.
"Such nonsense" is not appealing to Democrats. P.G. Sittenfeld is the progressive Democrat running for the Ohio Senate seat held by pro-TPP Republican Rob Portman. "The TPP is bad enough," said Sittenfeld, "but Fast Track is even worse, and I would vote against both if I were in the Senate."
In my view, giving this president-- or any future president-- a six-year blank check to negotiate trade deals that can only be voted up or down is an abdication of Congressional responsibility. I’ve got no problem whatsoever with presidents negotiating trade or other international agreements, since they obviously can’t be negotiated by 535 members of Congress. But once agreements are struck, the only real power Congress has is the power to amend. Once that is given up, presidents run the show and Congress has no power or authority at all.

Let me be crystal clear. In the Senate, I will work with anyone from either party to get the best trade deals possible for Ohio workers. Given a fair chance and a level playing field, I believe Ohioans can outwork, outproduce and outcompete anyone on the face of the planet. But free trade must also be fair trade.
One of the worst of the Republicans on this is freshman Congressman Steve Knight, who has been getting a lot of pushback from Republican extremists like himself who are disappointed he's "gone soft" since being elected. His official congressional website ran an article from the libertarian Cato Institute apologizing for the GOP position giving Obama unlimited Fast Track authority over trade.
Trade opponents characterize TPA as an executive power-grab, a legislative capitulation, and a blank check from Congress that entitles the president to negotiate trade deals in secret without any congressional input except the right to vote “yea” or “nay” on an unalterable, unamendable, completed and signed agreement. But the truth is that TPA does not cede any authority from one branch to the other, but makes exercise of that authority more practicable for both branches.

Under the Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Congress is given the authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” and to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” While the president has no specific constitutional authority over trade, Article II grants the president power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. Accordingly, the formulation, negotiation, and implementation of trade agreements require the involvement and cooperation of both branches.

TPA allows the executive branch to negotiate trade deals with foreign governments on the basis of guidance from Congress, to be approved or not, under expedited legislative procedure by a subsequent up-or-down congressional vote on legislation to implement the agreement after it has been completed. That guidance includes articulation of Congress’s trade policy objectives, specific parameters, and other conditions that it expects the executive branch to meet in order for completed trade deals to receive the fast-track treatment of guaranteed, timely, up-or-down votes in both chambers without scope for amendments or filibusters. In other words, Congress does not relinquish its authority. It reiterates its authority by setting boundaries for the president.
Touchy, touchy... but that doesn't do anything to answer the question about why Steve Knight voted to steal $700 million from Medicare to grease the skids for the TPP, pissing off seniors, Democrats and his Tea Party base. Over at The Nation, John Nichols agreed, though, that the TPP battle wasn't about Obama... but not for the same reasons Knight and Cato think so.
The fight over Trade Promotion Authority was never about Barack Obama, despite the best efforts of the White House and many in the media to portray it as such. The president's effort to obtain congressional consent to "fast track" a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which failed Friday amid a complex flurry of House votes, fell apart because of something that runs far deeper: frustration on the part of Americans with race-to-the-bottom trade policies as defined by the North American Free Trade Agreement and extended across ensuing agreements.

...The free-trade model that has been promoted for decades by Democratic and Republican presidents, along with Wall Street interests and multinational corporations, has failed American workers and communities-- and millions of Americans who were part of the president's winning coalitions in 2008 and in 2012 recognize this.

...It wasn't that the Democrats wanted to deal Obama a defeat, as the vapid headlines suggested Friday afternoon. This wasn't the personality contest that pundits so enjoy. Many of the "no" votes came from the president's earliest and most sincere allies: House members such as Michigan's John Conyers, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, and California's Barbara Lee. The issue was trade policy, and most Democrats in the House share the view of labor, farm, environmental, and human-rights groups that believe our trade policies must be radically altered.

It was this understanding, not some antipathy toward Obama, that led 144 House Democrats to bolt on the critical vote, despite a last-minute appeal by the president to House Democratic Caucus members. Only 40 of Obama's partisan allies voted for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) component of the package. The president won the support of twice as many Republicans as Democrats on the TAA vote, which had been packaged with the fast-track legislation. A vote against either measure doomed the final package. (Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he wants to bring the TAA issue up again next week in a last-ditch effort to pull all the pieces together, but that will only happen if a lot of Democratic votes flip.)

In an essentially symbolic test on fast track Friday, which came just after the TAA defeat, only 28 Democrats sided with the 191 Republicans who voted "yes."

The Democrats who voted against the legislation did not do so to hurt the president, and the Republicans who voted for the legislation weren't trying to help the president. The Republicans cast entirely predictable votes for a trade agenda that benefits the Wall Street interests that influence both parties, but that tend to carry the most sway with the GOP.

One of the steadiest critics of the president, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan, worked feverishly for weeks to secure support for Trade Promotional Authority, under which Congress would have granted Obama the so-called fast-track authority to close the deal on sweeping new trade agreements such as the TPP. Ryan's enthusiastic lobbying provided essential backing for Obama's effort to get Congress to cede its oversight and amendment powers over trade deals.

But Ryan was not providing that support because of any change of heart regarding Obama. He was providing that support because he invariably aligns with Wall Street in fights over economic issues. And he had an added incentive for doing so: If fast track had been approved Friday (or if it is eventually approved), Obama would not be the only president who gets the freedom to negotiate deals with limited congressional oversight. His successor, potentially a Republican, would get the same authority.

...The president will, undoubtedly, continue to advocate for trade agreements, but he cannot succeed merely with the support of Wall Street, Paul Ryan, and ALEC. He needs to renew his coalition, in Washington and in the states. And the way to do that is not with fast-track authority, secret negotiations, and the old "free trade" model. The way to succeed is with a fair-trade model that puts workers, farmers, the environment, human rights, and democracy ahead of the corporate interests that want only a race to the bottom.
And the progressive Democrat running against Knight up in the Santa Clarita region (CA-25), Lou Vince, disagrees fundamentally with Knight's approach. "On the TPP," he responded to a question from a voter recently, "I think we can again learn a lot from recent history. NAFTA has allowed Americans to purchase trillions of dollars of goods and services from other countries and I find it unlikely that those other countries have bought an equal amount of goods and services from Americans. The TPP, in my opinion, was an agreement negotiated on behalf of large corporations by governments in an effort to divide up how the corporations were going to make money. Just based on discussion I’ve heard, it seems to me that countries without sufficient labor regulations and poor or non-existent environmental regulations would also be rewarded. We need something that protects American jobs and the middle class, but TPP sure doesn’t sound like it does that to me. Sounds like we are digging a hole in direct violation of the first rule of holes- when you are in a hole, stop digging. I oppose the TPP."

If you'd like to help Lou replace Knight, here's the page for you.

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