Optimistically Pessimistic Thoughts on TPA

When it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership, the maneuverings in its regard are more representative of the nature of American politics than the will of the American people. The procedural moves in Congress are disorienting enough that who will be accountable for the screwing of the American people is obscured – the political dealings have become such a dense smokescreen that the most politically engaged persons I know have not followed the process. To their credit, the end result is what is truly important, but looking at the process as a whole should make us suspicious of the actual innocence of Democrats. As a refresher:

The Senate passed fast track authority (TPA) and a bill (TPA) that would fund educational programs to reorient workers who lost their jobs from the inevitable outsourcing of industry that would occur from TPP. The TAA is unnecessary spending for the working class, so says the GOP, and so the inclusion of such a bill is a gift to democrats, to make their vote easier to justify to their liberal constituents. Of course, the gift was in part a re-gifting of past presents to democrats, being that the funds for TAA came from cuts to Medicare. Fully aware that they would be castigated in reelection campaigns for essentially voting to cut Medicare, Dems of the most liberal constituencies voted against TAA. As a bonus, they could say that voting it down was a method of preventing the passage of TPA, which had been, it seemed at the time rather unwisely for their ends, separated by Boehner and McConnell, but which was most likely a stunt for GOP to visibly vote against TAA. For “leadership” the idea was that democrats would carry TAA and republicans would do the same for TPA, with the passage of both being necessary for the true passage of either, lest the House make changes that would have to be voted on in the Senate, eating precious time when republican leadership is set on assuring voters that they can actually maybe govern. With democrats killing the overall bill by not carrying their end of the bargain, neither passed. Boehner, resigned to the fact that this political wrangling would be time consuming, put TPA by itself to a vote, without TAA, which was sent to the Senate, and today was approved to be brought to the floor for a final vote. Boehner and McConnell’s assurance to Senate democrats (who are more beholden than House members to the power of corporate interests due to their larger profiles and therefore larger campaign contribution receipts) that TAA is soon to follow makes likely the passage of TPA.

Boehner’s lack of power in controlling his caucus, and recently even leading his own inner circle, makes it doubtful that he can guarantee TAA. In reality, taking up TAA would put the pressure back on House democrats to carry that bill, but this time they could argue that the cuts to Medicare are a necessary evil, one better than the passage of TPA without TAA. Essentially, Senate democrats will hold house Democrats hostage, voting as if House dems align with them in (professed, at least) principle, when their vote would make them align through force.

One thing that becomes painfully obvious is that there should be an abolishment of the Senate, which is a holdover from a time of aristocracy when governors appointed their wealthy friends to represent the interests of propertied men and tycoons. Though Senators are now elected by popular vote they still predominantly represent the wealthy, as research shows (see Winner-Take-All-Politics by Hacker and Pierson) that Senators (and really house members as well) disproportionately weigh the interests of the wealthy. What is more, the institution is hardly constitutive of a representative democracy if a person who (supposedly) represents the interests of 900,000 people (the population of South Dakota) has the same voting power as a person who represents roughly 39,000,000 people (the population of California), absent the differences in power due to committee appointments, which have everything to do with political connections. It is insane that members of a disproportional system of power can force the hand of an, at least, more proportionately representative legislating body.

But rather than cow to the Senate, House democrats can make a final stand and take President Obama at his word that he wouldn’t sign into law TPA without TAA, by voting TAA down again and putting the final decision with President Obama. Perhaps this move would finally shake President Obama’s steadfastness and cause him to realize that we are worried about fast tracking, with its lack of accountability and democracy.

I don’t think House democrats will take this approach. On optimistic grounds (optimistic in the sense that all of this isn’t a show), they wouldn’t take that approach because the President would likely renege on his word and sign TPA without TAA, and so they choose the lesser of two evils, so they will say. But it seems likely to me that this is a ruse, and they will claim that they fought valiantly but lost, when in reality this was planned to proceed as such from the beginning. Indeed, how could Democrats not have foreseen that the Republicans would easily send TPA by itself to the Senate? No, this has all been a show, so that they can present themselves as champions of the people though they lost against the inevitable tides of the political currents, and so they shouldn’t be held accountable for this failing.

Yet they must be held accountable when the stakes are so high. TPA cannot pass because Congress must be able to amend the deal. This ability is particularly important because we know through leaks some of what is in the deal and as it threatens democracy it must be removed. Provisions that would allow corporations to sue national governments for damages done by reducing profits as a consequence of regulating their product (such as health warnings on cigarette cartons) are one of the clearest examples of what Chris Hedges has called “corporate totalitarianism”. Assuming that House democrats are genuinely against TPA and all their efforts have not been a show, when the stakes are so high, with the potential that so many human lives will be destroyed by decrees of the honorable judge Capitalism, we must take extraordinary risks. House democrats should vote down TAA as the last hope of appealing to the mercy of President Obama’s waning liberal ideals, which have been steadily subsumed by the conflict of his ego and diminishing political power.

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