Reid Wilson, senior political policy writer for The Washington Post's GovBeat, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal April 27 to talk about his reporting on the prospects for Congress giving so-called fast track authority, or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), to the administration in order to speed the enactment of a pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
This is an issue that has split some Democrats who would normally support the president and drawn support from Republicans who are normally critical of President Obama.
Wilson was interviewed by host John McArdle, who asked first about the basic elements of the negotiations, which are inherently complex. Wilson explained that about a dozen Asian countries are involved in negotiations that would allow freer flow of trade by breaking down some tariff barriers and codify deals that have been in the works for a very long time. Supporters say it's good for business, the economy and international security, whereas opponents contend the agreement is bad for workers, both here and abroad, when jobs are outsourced to countries with lower wages and less legal protection for workers' rights.
Thus, TPP is the deal, and TPA is the procedure for the deal to be approved that allows Congress to vote only up or down, without the opportunity to offer amendments. Reid observed that "The interesting thing about this is that it has rekindled a growing political debate in both parties over the role of economic populism, Wall Street versus Main Street, who is actually benefiting from this deal, and it is creating very strange bipartisan bedfellows on the far right and the far left."
Wilson described changes in the political landscape that have occurred since 1993 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed during the Clinton administration. However, now, because of the importance of labor in fundraising and voter turnout, Wilson reported that Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, who participated in some of the negotiations, is hedging her position on the deal.
In 1993, 102 Democrats voted for NAFTA in the House, 156 against, but he called 102 Democrats "a significant number," and 132 Republicans also voted for NAFTA, so it passed fairly easily. Of the 102 supportive Democrats, about 70 were from Southern or border states, and he suggested that Southern states do a lot of manufacturing and wanted to increase trade with Canada and Mexico.
This writer would recall that the most vocal opponent of NAFTA, Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., was also a Southern Democrat from a manufacturing state, and he openly called himself a protectionist and supported the declining textile industry.
Now, following "wave" elections of 2010 and 2014, about half of those 70 seats are held by Republicans, and congressional Democrats tend to be from urban and suburban districts that are a lot more liberal, as the party has shifted left, so that a majority of House Democrats now oppose TPP and TPA, and they complain that the agreement has been negotiated "in secret" and will be passed under an expedited procedure, with Republicans providing most of the votes.
The most prominent proponents in the Senate are Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The key supporter in the House has been Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but Tea Party Republicans despise Obama. Wilson predicted the fate of TPP will be decided in the House.
(Archived video can be found here
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