The Road Map for Today's Fast Track Voting

June 12th, 2015
in econ_news

by Joseph M. Firestone, New Economic Perspectives

There are 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House. Republicans, led by John Boehner and Paul Ryan, say they are confident about having enough votes to hold a successful floor vote on Friday, June 12th.  However, Politico reports that Republican sources are saying they will get anywhere from 180 - 200 votes for fast-track, which doesn't sound very different from their at least 190 vote estimate as of June 3rd.


Follow up:

So, that leaves anywhere from 46 - 66 Republican opponents of the legislation. The top of this range is very near the maximum of 57 Republicans that TPP opponents have previously estimated could vote against it, except that on the high side it acknowledges the possibility that Republicans may have lost ground compared to a week ago.

Last week, also, supporters of the bill reportedly could not count on more than 17 Democrats to vote for it, and no more than 20 after all the maneuvering and politicking has occurred. Today, the number of committed TPP Democrats seems to be 20, with the recent addition of Don Beyer (D-VA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), and Jim Himes (D-CT). So, it appears not much progress has been made toward the 218 votes required to carry the fast-track authority in spite of all the activity and much posturing from the pro-TPP forces.

That brings us to the Democratic Leadership as a group. A week ago, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn, the to Democratic leaders in the House, were refusing to commit to either side of the fast-track issue. Politico even reports that Administration officials had begun to "consider a crazy possibility. . . " that she might vote for the TPP herself, and then she is described as not wanting to embarrass her president ". . . by failing to get an authority granted to his predecessors."

The Leadership seemed to be hiding its preference for fast-track and TPP behind that pretense of neutrality. But their failure to support the anti-fast-track/TPP forces, lead them, and whip for them suggested that Nancy Pelosi, assisted by Hoyer and Clyburn seemed to responsible for keeping fast-track alive in the House, since if the three Leaders all committed to the anti-fast-track position, then they might well have prevented any further defections by Democrats beyond the 17, and perhaps even rolled back some of those those to the point where Democratic support for fast-track could well have fallen to around 10 votes by the most religious members of the "free trade" religion.

Late last week Gaius Publius convincingly argued that Nancy Pelosi was both enabling fast-track, and also whipping Democrats in safe seats to vote for the TPA. The Beyer, Rice, and Himes defections from the Democratic caucus majority also occurred during this period. As of now however, Pelosi's efforts have only brought the pro-fast-track Democratic total up to 20, which, if it holds firm, means that the Republicans would need to get to 198 votes, almost the top of their estimated range to pass fast-track.

As of this writing, there's a whole lot of maneuvering going on to try to expand the pro-fast-track Democratic bloc in the House, and to hold or convert Republican doubters to a pro-fast track/TPP position in the face of what may be very heavy tea party pressure for more of the Republican Caucus to break away from supporting fast-track. Let's look at the Democratic Party side first.

The Democrats held a closed meeting on Wednesday in which Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who has been a primary leader organizing the anti-fast-track/TPP effort in the House presented a horror show, playing clips of Republican advertising in previous campaigns accusing Democratic candidates for Federal and State offices of voting to cut Medicare, and telling them that they could not safely vote for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) portion of the multi-bill compromise deal leaders were trying to craft in the House. And that it was imperative to get the Medicare cut offset of projected trade adjustment spending replaced with some other offset.

Pelosi echoed DeLauro's advice and following an explosion of anti-TPP sentiment and debate in the meeting,negotiated a deal with John Boehner to replace the Medicare offset, with another "pay for" coming from tighter tax law enforcement and closing of some tax loopholes. Pelosi then objected to Boehner's procedural plan for passing the various bills in the compromise package, and proposed a procedural bill to guarantee the terms of a compromise on how to pass fast-track by getting more sorely needed Democrats aboard.

And Boehner responded with this procedure which he will try to implement on Friday:

The House will begin votes Thursday. First, the House would bring up a trade "preferences" bill under expedited consideration. This bill would include the newly stringent tax restrictions, which would effectively cancel the Medicare offset Pelosi objected to. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will pass that legislation quickly.

Then, the House will vote on a procedural "rule" bill, which would include the already nullified Medicare cuts. The House will then vote Friday on TAA - if that fails, the whole process collapses. If TAA passes, the chamber will vote on the fast-track Trade Promotion Authority. The next vote will convene a House-Senate conference on a customs bill.

If this order succeeds, then the customs conference is there to remove the troublesome (to the Administration) anti-human trafficking provision in fast-track which slipped through the Senate.

Meanwhile, while this procedure is going forward, maneuvering continues on the Democratic side, where there is Democratic opposition including Pelosi's to the new TAA revision because it is underfunded and doesn't provide any protection for public sector workers. Labor is pressuring the Democrats on this issue heavily, but Boehner has made no move to conciliate the Democrats further.

Also, Rosa DeLauro is objecting to a provision in the tax offset closing the currently allowed child tax credit for high income expatriates. However, Pelosi met with high-level Administration officials on the trade issues on Wednesday, and sources told Politico that they expected her to vote for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which many now consider the key pre-fast track vote freeing up some undecided Democrats to move over to supporting fast-track itself. Whether, Pelosi herself, will vote for fast-track however, is an open question.

Going over to the Republican side of the fence, Paul Ryan has been trying to sweeten the deal for some tea party Republicans to bring them over to supporting fast-track. Republicans, noting the provisions of the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) made available by Wikileaks, giving the President expanded authority to make immigration policy, were developing stronger reservations about fast-track since it covers TiSA, "free trade agreements" the Executive cares to negotiate. To fix this cause of growing concern Steve King (R-IA) introduced an amendment to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act that he thought would remove this authority from the President under "fast-track."

Ryan responded to King, however, with promises that though celebrated by King would apparently not fix the problem. As Matthew Doyle in Breitbart says:

What Ryan is saying here - in response to concerns King raised about immigration provisions in trade agreements being fast-tracked under TPA in a previous letter to Ryan - is that Ryan will include an amendment in future legislation, not the current TPA. That means that the current TPA, if it passes the House, would still allow the immigration provisions to move forward. It also means the U.S. Senate could reject the amendment on the future legislation - which it probably will - and that if the Senate somehow does pass the legislation, Obama could veto it.

In addition, Ryan tried to further meet Republican objections to fast-track by introducing an amendment to the House Customs bill that would "ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to US law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change." Democrats are incensed about this one. It conciliates tea party Republicans and gives them a fig leaf for supporting fast-track, but it also introduces another obstacle for wavering Democrats, strengthening their resolve to oppose fast-track, since an aspect of the bill they may have liked, is being removed by a later bill after they are being asked (In Boehner's procedural sequence of bills) to take a difficult vote on TAA and on the fast-track bill itself before they get to vote on the customs bill and approve the House-Senate conference.

Some Democrats will already have problems with the customs bill because it contains a provision to water down the anti-human trafficking poison pill in the Senate version. But this environmental amendment to the bill, added to a provision restricting the President's powers to handle immigration under fast-track might well provide them with an incentive to try to defeat the customs bill, in order to blow up fast-track by leaving the poison pills in there in hopes that other nations will reject the agreement when they have to accept the anti-slavery and anti-environment provisions written into fast-track.

It may be that Ryan's attempts to sweeten fast-track for balky Republicans, will provide obstacles for Boehner and Pelosi that they cannot overcome in breaking off more Democrats from the anti-TPP forces. In any event however, it may give Boehner reasons for proposing a different procedure to Pelosi and for negotiations that will delay the fast-track vote until next week.

One thing that Ryan hasn't done for Republicans to lessen their opposition to TPP has been to ask the Administration to make the TPP text public. Of course, Democrats have been asking for this for some time. But Republicans are asking for that too. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and five other Republicans sent a letter calling for Ryan to ask the Administration to release the TPP text in light of the provision allowing possible amendment of the agreement by the President allowing China to join the TPP later on without Congressional consent. They were also concerned about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Commission and exactly what its powers would be. Ryan has, of course, made no move to conciliate them and others they may represent. Nor, I'm sure, did they expect him to. So they must have made the request to stiffen the Republican opposition to fast-track.

So far, I've looked at the state of play on the eve of the fast-track vote by accepting a view of the political alignments as described primarily in Politico's and the Hill's coverage of the fast-track TPP fight. However, there is a radically different alternative view of how the political battle is working out in some conservative quarters. This view is reflected by Matthew Doyle in a post on Breitbart on June 9th in this passage:

The total number of definite Republican no votes on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that would fast track the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal-the text of which is currently being kept hidden from the American people-is probably higher than 123, some sources close to the process tell Breitbart News, despite GOP leadership's public statements that they will pass by voting on it soon - perhaps this week.

One aide who works for a member who isn't publicly against it yet but is opposed to Obamatrade said that Boehner will probably will probably have to break the so-called Hastert Rule, which informally requires a majority of Republicans - 124, since there are 246 total House Republicans - to support a piece of legislation before it's called to the House floor for a vote.

If that's the case, with less than 20 Democrats supportive of the deal publicly, Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would need to deliver close to or more than 100 Democrat votes to get over the golden 218 marker to pass a bill. That seems, quite frankly, impossible if Republicans are as opposed to this as it seems.

This viewpoint on the state of play seems way out of right field to me and is wholly at variance with what any other commentators are offering by way of speculation about how the fast-track vote will come down. If there is even a small grain of truth in it, however, then the Republicans are far closer to their own minimum estimate of 180 votes delivered for fast-track, rather than their maximum of 200. Also, since Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership are not known for under-selling their projections about the future, and since they estimated 190 votes at the beginning of this week, the estimate of 180 or so votes seems pretty likely to me as a number close to the truth.

If they do get 180, however, then the pro-fast-track forces would need 38 Democratic votes tomorrow or early next week. I believe that is highly improbable and that the upper limit of Democratic votes is probably between 25 - 27, not enough to avoid a clear defeat for fast-track.

Of course, if even the 180 estimate turns out to be overly optimistic because it ignores the extent of tea party disturbance over this bill, then all bets are off, and we may be looking at 75 or 80 defectors from the Republican fast-track establishment, or even more as the aide Doyle quoted guessed. Either way, however, if things come down that way, then the fate of fast-track and with it TPP, TTIP, TiSA and the unknown others waiting in the wings, will have been nowhere near Pelosi's lap at all.

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