On trade, Democrats rebel against their own legacy

When it comes to trade, Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads the Democratic charge not only against Obama but against Truman, Kennedy and Clinton. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

When it comes to trade, Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads the Democratic charge not only against Obama but against Truman, Kennedy and Clinton. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

UPDATE at 3:53 p.m.: Senate Democrats’ holdout lasted only about 24 hours, as a deal to let the TPA vote move forward was announced this afternoon. In practical terms, they seem to have gained little with their antics: They’ll get a vote on three separate trade-related matters, as they were supposed to before, but they won’t be attached to the TPA bill itself, which is also how things stood Tuesday. So it’s not clear why the Warren Democrats held out and then caved. But it is clear that, just as Tuesday, they are more interested in exporting U.S. regulations than in exporting U.S. goods.

ORIGINAL POST:

The Democratic Party of Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and even Bill Clinton is one step closer to the grave after Tuesday’s vote against Trade Promotion Authority for President Obama. Democratic senators united against one of the president’s central policies for the remainder of his term in office: finalizing a trans-Pacific trade agreement to open up markets in 11 other countries to American products and make their products more accessible to American consumers.

For decades, both Republicans and Democrats viewed freer trade as a net positive for America. Yes, opening our market can harm workers in certain industries, as many former textile workers in the South can attest. But on the whole, reducing trade barriers such as quotas, tariffs and subsidies generates wealth for all parties involved by allowing nations to maximize their own advantages, to our mutual benefit.

By far, the best way to liberalize trade is through treaties among as many countries as possible, because that puts more markets on equal legal footing. Otherwise, companies and consumers are faced with a complex web of varying rules depending on where in the world they’re doing business. The first three rounds of modern, multilateral trade deals were completed during the Truman administration. The so-called Kennedy round of talks, begun six months after its namesake’s assassination, was an enormous expansion that more than doubled the number of participating countries and removed an estimated $40 billion in tariffs — helping producers and consumers alike. Regional pacts, such as NAFTA, are somewhat less effective at growing the economy, with bilateral deals much further behind because of the hodgepodge of often wildly different trading conditions they create.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would land somewhere in between a true multilateral and a regional deal, as it would incorporate 12 countries representing some 40 percent of global GDP. China wouldn’t be included, but the TPP would include Japan (the world’s No. 3 economy), Canada (No. 11), Australia (No. 12), Mexico (No. 15), Malaysia (No. 35), Singapore (No. 36) and Chile (No. 41), as well as Brunei, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam. Opening up Japan’s market further is of particular value to U.S. producers. And as we already have bilaterals with four of these countries, plus NAFTA with two others, this could help make trade less complex for American companies.

Obama and Republican leaders had worked out enough of their differences to allow the president to finish the negotiations and bring a deal to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote — which, in the end, is all Trade Promotion Authority authorizes. But although Republicans had already yielded on the issue of subsidies for workers affected negatively by the deal, Democrats led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio voted nearly unanimously to block the bill. (Only Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware broke with the caucus.)

Warren and Brown cited concerns the president would sell out American workers to boost big business, a pretty baseless worry as long as Obama is in the White House. If Republicans could get over their concerns that a trade deal would become so laden with sops to labor unions and environmentalists as to be worthless — which is pretty much what Warren & Co. are demanding — surely Democrats could trust their own man. Instead, we got Brown calling Obama “sexist” for publicly and pointedly dismissing Warren’s charges.

That may be the first sign that Obama is truly a lame duck even within his own party. But far more worrisome is that Democrats seem poised to completely abandon a concept that has done more to help prosperity than hurt it, here and abroad.

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
FIGMO2
FIGMO2

So it’s not clear why the Warren Democrats held out and then caved.

Because one can't be a populist without, at least, appearing to care?


GuyCrouchback
GuyCrouchback

We currently allow in over 1 million legal immigrants each year. The trade pact will allow Pres. Obama to increase this number, as big business further opts to bring in lower wage workers to do jobs Americans would otherwise be hired to do.

Astonishingly, Senator Warren gets this issue right.

Caius
Caius

From Politico:

"Senate leaders have reached a deal to advance President Barack Obama’s trade initiative after a failed vote prompted a furious round of negotiating on Wednesday.

After trading offers throughout the night, party leaders agreed to vote on a fast-track trade bill that was blocked just 24 hours before by Democrats who’d wanted more assurances that their priorities would also be considered.

The agreement, announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the Senate floor, would give Democrats a chance to vote on two of their trade priorities as standalone bills, in addition to the fast-track measure."

So we have Republicans going to bat for Obama and Democrats blocking Obama.  What was that song they played at Yorktown - "The World Turned Upside Down" ???

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Not obvious at all why so called "free fair trade" is good.  Seems like it's caused a massive hemorrhaging of US jobs to the rest of the world.  Hard to figure out why that's a good thing.


It's clear that other countries cheat extensively - manipulating barriers to sale of US products, their currency, etc.  Turning over our rights to reciprocate seems like insanity.  We need to keep the tools to enforce fair trade in our own quiver - not turn them over to some "international body" that does nothing but rule against the US and drive up our trade deficit.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@dcdcdc "Seems like it's caused a massive hemorrhaging of US jobs to the rest of the world."

That's not at all clear from the evidence. Keep in mind, the U.S. unemployment rate was still below 5% as late as February 2008 -- a decade and a half after NAFTA and the most recent multilateral trade deal. In fact, the unemployment rate from 1994 through 2007 averaged 5.1%, and that was including the recession after the tech bubble and 9/11.

OldPhysicsTeacher
OldPhysicsTeacher

There are too many things wrong with this article to enumerate in one post.  But to claim relevance to this debacle and Harry Truman would take 4 paragraphs to counter. And that would be the first of .... hundreds.  Simply remember NAFTA and the sound of jobs sucking away. 

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

All those same Democrats are ready to flood the labor force with illegal immigrants to compete for poor people's jobs because that offers votes that will increase their power. Free trade offers no vote path to increase Democrat power so it must be opposed. Democrat politicians care about power, they just play compassionate to get more of it.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Yesterday's obstructionist Democrat antics is the rare exception to the rule that when Obama loses, Americans win.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

As a conservative free enterprise, free trade, market oriented economy buff, I suddenly can't explain why I hope Obama fails to get this done.  God forbid, but I'm with Warren on this!  1) I don't trust him, so I can't believe the GOP is supporting this highly classified mysterious agreement, that he will not expose to the sunlight, but which he so urgently needs for his "legacy".  2)  He is a lame duck, lets let this mellow until we get someone we can trust in the position to negotiate the deal.   It can wait two years.  3)  I am worried about the blow to the middle class and the loss of jobs that the proggies say the bill will cause.  We are still in a horrible economy, Obama's fictional blustering aside.  4)  According to Jeff Sessions this will bring about even more illegal immigration, something that will offset any economic gains.   I just don't see this as good for the country, AT THIS TIME.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@RafeHollister So, you agree with some Democrats because of your knee-jerk dislike for Obama? 


Huh.  Funny how that seems to work with many Republicans. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister If it's a bad deal, Congress can vote it down. TPA just ensures the deal isn't amended (which usually means adding all sorts of unrelated legislation to it).

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@Kyle_Wingfield @RafeHollister You are right, I am just relying on experience with legislation Obama has supported in the past.  But, as I know, even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister According to Jeff Sessions this will bring about even more illegal immigration


According to Jeff Sessions EVERYTHING brings about more illegal immigration  The man is a bumpkin and should be ignored. 



straker
straker

"is one step closer to the grave"


That's nothing.


The Republican Party of Ike and Reagan is already six feet under.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

One of the worries I heard early on in the negotiations was the ability of other countries or businesses to make a claim on "data".  For example, Sony in Japan would be able to sue Joe for damages because his daughter downloaded a web-copy of Spiderman 2. (and/or invade Joe's daughter's computer directly)  [I'm sure there are better recent examples.]

If those data worries have been overcome in the ensuing negotiations and the Electronics Frontier Foundation can support it, the American Civil Liberties Union can support it, and other entities that have previously criticized the bill have arguments settled, then perhaps the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be a good move forward for freer trade. 

There should be a balance of freedoms that protect individuals with due process and the costs of trade with strategic partners.  

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

The proggies have offended the unions enough already, with obamacare for instance, they have to toss them some crumbs every once in awhile.