The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In a stinging rebuke of President Barack Obama by his own party, Senate Democrats Tuesday blocked a White House-backed measure that would give the president the authority he says he needs to finalize a 12-nation Pacific trade pact.

Worried that a trade deal would cost American jobs, Democrats rebuffed an aggressive White House lobbying effort and withheld the votes needed to advance the so-called fast-track authority. Though the measure is supported by the Republican-controlled Senate, Tuesday’s 52-45 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

The Obama administration has made the emerging 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact a top priority of his final term, finding a ready partnership with Republican leaders who now have the majority in both chambers of Congress.

The vote was a major, if temporary, setback for the administration. Senate Republicans are likely to try again in the coming days or weeks.

Both Obama and Republican leaders say the Trans-Pacific Partnership will bolster the U.S. economy and ensure a larger market for U.S. exports.

“Selling products stamped ‘Made in America’ to the many customers who live beyond our borders is key,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate, promising a robust debate on various proposed amendments.

Democrats, though, are holding out for guarantees that there will also be new rules to clamp down on currency manipulators and that workers who lose their jobs due to the trade deal will be eligible for employment retraining assistance.

“If there’s one unifying principal about the economics of today it is this: The middle class is having a hard time in America today — perhaps the worst time in modern history,” said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who has voted for trade bills in the past but has concerns about the current measure. “Our middle class is being hollowed out.”

The Senate was expected to provide a more welcome venue than the House for the fast-track bill. Similar legislation has been approved ahead of previous trade deals, and this one simply assures that the final trade pact will receive a vote in Congress without amendments.

But the political dynamics of both parties have shifted since past trade deals were approved, and the nation’s sluggish economy has only amplified concerns over the contents of the deal.

Some Republicans have grown skeptical of big corporations, and hew to an economic populism that aligns them with liberal Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Many conservative Republicans are wary of giving a president they oppose fast-track authority.

Democrats want to provide more money for worker retraining than Republicans have offered. And they are pushing for rules to prevent countries from manipulating currency exchange rates to gain an edge in trade. China has frequently been targeted by lawmakers as a culprit, but more recently Japan, the second biggest economy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, also has come under fire as the yen has fallen in value against the dollar.

Many Democrats argue that intentionally weakened currencies have widened a trade imbalance that can be seen, for example, in the auto industry where thousands of Japanese cars are imported for every single American-made vehicle that is shipped overseas. But the White House is concerned that new currency rules could hit the U.S., too, if other countries criticize Federal Reserve monetary policies that could, as a byproduct, weaken the dollar.

Photo: via Flickr


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

President Joe Biden

The price of gasoline is not Joe Biden's fault, nor did it break records. Adjusted for inflation, it was higher in 2008 when Republican George W. Bush was president. And that wasn't Bush's fault, either.

We don't have to like today's inflation, but that problem, too, is not Biden's doing. Republicans are nonetheless hot to pin the rap on him. Rising prices, mostly tied to oil, have numerous causes. There would be greater supply of oil and gas, they say, if Biden were more open to approving pipelines and more drilling on public land.

Keep reading... Show less
Youtube Screenshot

Heat deaths in the U.S. peak in July and August, and as that period kicks off, a new report from Public Citizen highlights heat as a major workplace safety issue. With basically every year breaking heat records thanks to climate change, this is only going to get worse without significant action to protect workers from injury and death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration admits that government data on heat-related injury, illness, and death on the job are “likely vast underestimates.” Those vast underestimates are “about 3,400 workplace heat-related injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work per year from 2011 to 2020” and an average of 40 fatalities a year. Looking deeper, Public Citizen found, “An analysis of more than 11 million workers’ compensation injury reports in California from 2001 through 2018 found that working on days with hotter temperatures likely caused about 20,000 injuries and illnesses per year in that state, alone—an extraordinary 300 times the annual number injuries and illnesses that California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) attributes to heat.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}