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Monday, June 8, 2015

Lobbyists' funds help pass "fast track" trade legislation in US Congress

The Obama administration, after a prolonged battle, was able to pass "fast-track" authority for the Transpacific-Partnership trade deal by a vote of 62 to 37 in the U.S. Senate.
This will allow the Obama administration to complete the deal with Congress only being able to vote for or against the bill with no amendments or filibuster. The battle will now shift to the House of Representatives where Obama will face strong opposition from the ranks of his own party and from some on the Republican right. The bill has much more support among Republicans than Democrats. The vote in the Senate to approve the bill was no doubt in part the result of large payments to Senators. The Guardian newspaper reports:Using data from the Federal Election Commission, this chart shows all donations that corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP made to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate:Out of the total $1,148,971 given, an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes. The average Republican member received $19,673.28 from corporate TPP supporters.
The average Democrat received $9,689.23 from those same donors.
The complete data can be found here.
Among Democrats, Senator Warren has been one of the leading and harshest critics of the TPP. Nancy Pelosi the Democratic minority leader in the House said that John Boehner the House Speaker would need 200 Republican votes to win the 217 votes he needs. Obama is having a battle to win over new converts within his own party. Pelosi has yet to declare her own position.
A few Republican conservatives apparently oppose the bill simply because they do not want to support Obama on anything. Hillary Clinton, has been vague in her responses to the issue. Certainly she has not come out with criticisms as her supporter Elizabeth Warren has done. In the past, Clinton was a cheerleader for the TPP but in order to further her campaign for the presidential nomination she must throw out some crumbs to the Democratic base of union member and environmentalists who are generally opposed to the TPP:The problem for Clinton is that she has historically backed free-trade deals, and as secretary of state called the TPP "the gold standard in trade agreements." Yet her campaign's big push over the last week or two has been to prove her liberal bona fides.
In the House, there are about 20 Democrats in favor of the bill and less than a dozen still undecided. Those supporting the bill say that they need at least 25 Democrats with 30 even better to pass the bill. Thirty to forty Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. The passage of the bill in Senate was aided by a measure called Trade Adjustment Assistance(TAA) that would assist workers who might be displaced as a result of the agreement. Many Republican oppose the provision. The House leadership might possibly divide the question to allow separate votes on the TAA and the bill itself. Some Democrats also oppose the TAA because it would be partly funded by Medicare cuts.
Opponents of the legislation point out that corporations could use TPP provisions to challenge U.S. regulations governing food safety or pesticide us:The TPP would allow foreign corporations to challenge any U.S. food safety regulation on pesticide use or processing that exceeds international standards. In turn, any U.S. food safety rule could be challenged as an illegal trade barrier, which ultimately might force the U.S. to allow unsafe food products to be imported under the threat of trade sanctions.Senator Warren has demanded that Obama end what she calls the secret deals involved in the TPP and allow for public input in the negotiation process.
Opponents of the TPP may have a problem mobilizing the general public against the bill since a recent Pew Research Center poll showed that 58 percent of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, thought that free trade agreements had been good for the U.S. The issue of global trade ranked 23rd among priorities of Americans for the Congress and president.


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