Conflicting headlines this past week show the confusion with the defense bill in the Senate. On Thursday, senators passed the $612 billion defense policy bill that would ban torture and authorize weapons for Ukraine. The 71-to-25 vote also tightened restrictions on resettling detainees in other countries, blocking President Obama from closing the Gitmo detention facility by requiring congressional approval. The bill included a $38 billion slush fund for war, the same fund that allowed George W. Bush to spend billions outside the budget for his wars and sidestepped the sequester law restricting expenditures. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), the only Republicans to vote against the bill, joined Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 22 Democrats to oppose the bill. President Obama said he would veto the bill because it violates the sequester law.
Immediately after this vote, the Senate rejected a measure to pay for the defense bill because it didn’t lift spending limits in other areas of the budget. The bill to fund the defense budget failed to overcome a filibuster, 45 to 50, with only the only positive Democratic vote from Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly.
While the Senate was struggling with defense bill, the House passed the TPP fast-track for the second time, still trying to give the president the authority to close trade deals. Last week, the vote was 219-211, but the companion measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help workers displaced by trade failed. This week the vote was the bare minimum of 218 to 208 with the promise the Republicans will support the TAA at some other time.
William Pitt described how the “trade adjustment” works. A worker for a software company gets a living wage and health benefits by doing customer assistance on the phone. The TPP can air-mail the job to the Pacific Rim because those workers get paid much less–$0.56 an hour in Vietnam, for example. All the other jobs have been sent across the ocean, too, leaving the jobless destitute. The “assistance” is the part that didn’t get passed although Republicans said they would get back to it—sometime. It’s a guarantee that TPP will kill jobs, and without the minimal “assistance” for “trade adjustment, ex-workers will have nothing instead of very little.
The GOP-dominated Senate requires two 60-vote majorities to pass the TPA (ability to fast-track the TPP without the bother of amendments or debate) and TAA separately before trying to connect them for return to the House. Representatives will have to vote on it and then provide reconciliation and another passing vote. The president has sworn that he won’t sign the fast-track without the money piece, but he may be desperate enough to get the TPP passed that he may change his mind.
Even legislators with good intentions have folded on their principles. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP to bar Tier 3 nations, offenders of human trafficking, from being a part of the trade deal. The White House called the amendment a “deal breaker” because it wants Malaysia, and Menendez watered down his amendment to state that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, also commonly known as slavery. President Obama is willing to accept slavery in order to get his trade deal.
On the same day last week that Congress slowed down the TPP by voting against the TAA, the House voted to overturn rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat. Support for the law came from a response to 1999 World Trade Organization rules while opposition declared that labeling the meat was “unfair” to foreign countries and worried about sanctions or lawsuits from countries sending meat into the United States. Overturning a labeling law would keep people from being informed consumers, supporting U.S. farmers, or knowing that their meat had been inspected.
The House struck down a law because they were afraid of international tribunals that adjudicate trade disputes. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement process is primarly controlled by corporations and their lawyers. Trade agreements erase the ability to regulate commerce and finance which raises prices and guts laws for the common good.
Columnist David Brooks’ column about the harm from the defeat of the TPP needs fact-checking:
Claim: Damage the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growth in the nation’s manufacturing exports from earlier trade treaties. Fact: Lori Wallach reports that on NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. has a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada with a related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs and over $360 million paid to corporations because of the “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies. The United States Department of Agriculture has projected that GDP gains from the TPP is approximately zero.
Claim: Stifle future innovation. Fact: Proposed TPP copyright provisions silence businesses, researchers, and artists while expensive cost of enforcement would impede new Internet-based start-ups. Excessive copyright terms prevent artists and creators from accessing, remixing, and recreating new works out of existing ones.
Claim: Imperil world peace. Fact: With the conservative enthusiasm and history in attacking the Middle East, and now considering an attack on Russia because of Ukraine, this statement smacks of hypocrisy. Brooks claims that the TPP protects the U.S. from being controlled by China, yet there’s nothing preventing China from joining the TPP and taking over because corporations are in control of it.
Legislators are making millions of dollars—200 of them, to be exact—from their votes in favor of TPP. The highest paid representative was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who brought in $5.3 million for his yes vote; Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was second at $2.4 million, the same as Paul Ryan (R-WI). Fourth spot was $1.6 million for Pat Tiberi (R-OH), the same as Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who changed to nay and got only $282,710 for that vote. Other House members getting over $1 million for yes votes are Joe Crowley (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Richard Neal (D-MA).
For representatives who voted against the TPP, TPP lobbyists—security brokers, investment companies, and bankers—paid over $23 million to oppose them..
Information about the TPP:
With no currency provisions, the TPP will not help U.S. economy. Companies like Walmart and GE benefit from an over-valued dollar, since it allows them to buy and/or produce goods cheaply abroad.
Trade agreement will not increase the number of jobs in the U.S., but it increases barriers in copyright protection for drugs and Hollywood media and raises prices for drugs and media content.
The ballooning trade deficit from trade agreements weighs down economic growth and wages. For example, the agreement with South Korea increased U.S. exports by $1 billion while increasing imports by $12 billion. It cost the United States 75,000 jobs.
The TPP is weaker than the 2007 deals with Peru, Panama, and Columbia.
The TPP allows corporations to sue sovereign governments–such as the United States–for monetary damages in what companies perceive as “expected future profits.”
Only corporations can sue governments; workers don’t have that right.
In seeking to “harmonize” regulations, trade agreements set a regulatory ceiling that will, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said, “punch holes in Dodd-Frank without directly repealing it,” by forcing regulators to roll back capital or leverage requirements. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress, “Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards [on regulations] and that’s something that we just think is not acceptable.” President Obama may try to hold the line, but a future GOP president will definitely use trade deals to further undermine regulations.
Weak “rule of origin” guidelines allow China to import goods into TPP member countries without any tariffs, while freed from following any TPP regulations.
The TPP is a secret deal that most members of Congress have not gone to the effort to read. Even if they have, they are forbidden from telling anyone what is in the agreement.
President Obama’s claim that everyone opposing the TPP is just a “politician” overlooks the fact that the president, too, is a politician. The TPP gives nothing to the United States and erases progress, going so far as to replace parts of the constitution.