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Can Labor And The Democrats Fix The TPP?

The administration’s case for a deal: In the end, it will contain strong labor and environmental standards, and if this deal doesn’t happen, China will negotiate a deal with far weaker standards
Can Labor And The Democrats Fix The TPP?
Image from: Ohio AFL-CIO

Greg Sargent with some news on the TPP fight:

Here’s the latest: Labor is ratcheting up its campaign against Senate Democrats to prevent them from caving on what unions — and many liberal Democrats — see as a core mechanism for ensuring that Congress has meaningful oversight as to the emerging deal, whose details are mostly a mystery to, well, pretty much everybody.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has sent a letter to every Senator demanding that they draw a hard line on changes that are currently being negotiated over the process by which any trade deal would be approved by Congress.

The Obama administration is demanding “fast track” authority that allows it to negotiate the deal on the understanding that there will be only a final up or down vote in Congress on it.

Members of Congress who support “fast track,” such as Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Orrin Hatch, are currently negotiating with Democrats over a preliminary “Trade Promotion Authority” bill that would create this “fast track” mechanism.

Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Lloyd Doggett, argue they haven’t been given access to the details of the emerging deal, but those negotiating this fast-track bill are promising more transparency.

But Trumka and other critics of the process are pushing for additional built-in accountability mechanisms. Among them would be a provision that would allow Congress to revoke this fast-track authority by a simple-majority vote, once the details of the trade deal are known. This would allow Congress to, in effect, press the administration to renegotiate a better deal if it falls short. The administration would surely argue that this risks scuttling the whole process. But such a move, the AFL-CIO maintains, would essentially reinforce Congressional oversight over the process and also place some accountability for it on Congress, rather than allowing Members to throw up their hands and say, “well, we only have the power to vote on the final bill now, so let’s approve it; it’s better than nothing.”

Trumka claims that a failure to pursue such changes would amount to Congressional abdication of responsibility. “The Constitution vests power over international trade with the Congress,” Trumka says in his letter to Senators. “Congress should not abandon its Constitutional authority by allowing the executive branch to disregard its objectives and hide its activities but still be awarded with preferential and expedited treatment.”


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Trumka goes on to say that a structure without these changes would be “unacceptable,” adding: “our goal is to ensure that bad deals go back to the negotiating table instead of becoming bad laws.”

The debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership is impossibly complex, and has developed many fault lines that go well beyond the questions of transparency and process above. Elizabeth Warren has raised alarms about multi-national corporations being able to evade financial regulations with little accountability. Labor opposes it on the grounds that it will cost jobs. Paul Krugman says a deal won’t cause catastrophic job loss, but still opposes it because the benefits will be minimal and will be outweighed by the downsides: increased property rights protections that will mainly help corporations while carrying possible global social costs.

But a trio of economists who have extensively researched how globalization and import competition have cost the U.S. industrial jobs for decades say the trade deal would actually benefit American workers, because those industrial jobs are not coming back and a deal would promote trade in areas where U.S. companies are now prepared to excel. And Ezra Kleinrecently reported the administration’s case for a deal: In the end, it will contain strong labor and environmental standards, and if this deal doesn’t happen, China will negotiate a deal with many of these countries with far weaker standards. So the choice is between a U.S.-led deal, and a China-led one. Or as Tyler Cowen puts it: “Either this deal happens on American terms, or an alternative deal arises on Chinese terms without our participation. For rather significant foreign policy reasons we prefer the former.”

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