The reports of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s death have been greatly exaggerated, unfortunately.
It would great news if the pact, which would mean more power for corporations over our lives and government, and fewer good jobs for Americans, were ready to be boxed and buried.
But more urgently, if last week’s news stories convince the growing transpartisan movement fighting the TPP to stand down, the prospects that the pact’s powerful proponents can succeed in their plan to pass it after the election will increase.
Last week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at the Kentucky Farm Bureau: "The current agreement…which has some serious flaws, will not be acted upon this year." This generated a wave of press coverage declaring that there would be no lame duck vote on the TPP.
Except, McConnell has said pretty much the same thing since the final TPP text was released, as have other Republican leaders.
Note that McConnell said the “current agreement” would not get a vote. A few weeks ago House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said: "I see no point in bringing up an agreement only to defeat it...it is not ready, the president has to renegotiate some critical components of it." Immediately after McConnell’s speech, a Ryan spokesman said: "As we have said for months, timing will be determined by progress on the substance – and the administration has a lot of work to do there."
Those statements need to be understood for what they are: negotiating for changes to obtain even more corporate goodies – longer monopoly protections for pharmaceutical firms’ high medicine prices, elimination of an exception protecting some tobacco regulations from TPP attack, and more. So far the corporate “we-want-more-or-else” tactic has pushed the White House into caving on Wall Street firms’ demands to “fix” TPP rules allowing governments to limit movement of financial data across borders. Since the administration has made no parallel moves to address criticisms coming from its own party, a very bad deal is getting even worse.
At the same time, many senators and representatives who voted for Fast Track are using these statements to try and duck accountability by pretending that the TPP is a moot issue. If these members then turn around after the election and support the TPP, that will be a huge insult to the democratic process and the millions of voters who are loudly urging Congress to support fair trade deals that support workers, consumers and the environment, rather than corporate giveaways like the TPP.
The GOP leaders are not only trying to pressure the White House to meet their demands, but are trying to scare the other TPP countries off of their current positions that no changes are possible.
If the GOP leaders get what they want, they will be pushing hard to pass an even more damaging TPP in the lame duck session, despite their insincere political posturing over the unpopular agreement leading up to the elections.
It’s also possible congressional Republicans will jump into gear to pass the deal in the lame duck session even if they do not achieve that last one percent of corporate goodies for the one percent.
Thanks to Fast Track, President Obama gets to decide if the TPP vote clock is started – not the Republican leadership. It is risky, but Obama could call the GOP leaders’ negotiating bluff.
Fast Track is a one use tool. Failure to pass the TPP once a president starts the clock means that Fast Track for the TPP is “used up.” Knowing that corporations that fund the Republicans want the TPP, Obama could gamble that the GOP leaders would fold on their demands and start pressuring their members to vote “yes” if he submits the implementing legislation.
And make no mistake, the massive corporate coalition pushing for the TPP is aggressively lobbying to pass the pact in the lame duck session—that unique moment of minimum political accountability when the retired and fired in Congress get to come back and vote one more time knowing they will not be facing their voters again. These interests are rolling out big-money AstroTurf “field” operations to generate paid telephone calls for the TPP, wrangle corporate retirees to write their Representatives and carpet cyberspace with paid social media.
That is not the behavior one would expect from interests with close personal relationships to McConnell and Ryan if in fact the Republican leaders intended to block a lame duck TPP vote, something the GOP could do even if Obama started the clock.
Because there would not be the required 90 congressional session days to force floor votes under Fast Track, the Republican congressional leaders would have to bring the TPP to a vote quickly or run out of time. (That is why Sen. Bernie Sander’s statement last week, praising McConnell for announcing he would “block” the TPP was so very sly, because of course McConnell said no such thing.)
It is also worth noting that the administration is working relentlessly to line up the votes to pass the TPP in the lame duck. So far there have been 30 events featuring cabinet secretaries and other Obama officials in key districts during the congressional recess.
For those who want to ensure a real TPP funeral, the only path to ensure TPP RIP is by locking down the votes district by district. That is entirely doable.
Already a dozen House GOP that supported Fast Track last year have announced opposition to the TPP. And, many of the 28 House Democrats that supported Fast Track have not announced support for TPP.
Perhaps they, like Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine, who announced opposition to the TPP after supporting Fast Track, have concerns about the gap between what they were told the final deal would include and what is in the actual final text on critical issues—such as the undemocratic investor-state corporate empowerment system
The current political context, with the presidential nominees of both parties against the TPP coupled with rising public anger across partisan lines about the influence corporations have over governments and the decisions that shape our daily lives means the TPP can be stopped.
The TPP exemplifies how the rules get rigged by the very few against the interests of the many: the deal was hatched with 500 official U.S. trade advisors representing corporate interests involved in years of closed-door negotiations while the public, press and Congress were locked out. The resulting core TPP provision grants thousands of corporations new rights to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers that can award unlimited sums, including for loss of future expected profits, to be paid by American taxpayers when the corporations claim U.S. policies violate the new entitlements the TPP would provide them.
But, the only way that the TPP will be stopped is if local constituents make every member of Congress publicly state his or her position on the TPP before the election when being in favor of such an outrage will have a political price.