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Senate Democrats Filibuster Obama-Backed Trade Measure

Politics Top News Tribune News Service

Senate Democrats Filibuster Obama-Backed Trade Measure

Economy, Middle-Class, Politics, Elizabeth Warren, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trade, China, Japan, Obama, Filibuster, Money

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: flazingo.com via Flickr



  1. Dominick Vila May 12, 2015

    So much for the allegations that President Obama is a socialist. With Republicans solidly behind the president, and Democrats on the other side of the fence, if the latest trade agreement passes it is not going to be because of Democratic support.
    I confess that I find the position taken by Democrats on this issue perplexing, to say the least. The proposed trade agreement is likely to create jobs, rather than lose them. The reason labor unions are fighting it is because many of the new jobs will be in sales, marketing, and other traditional white collar jobs, rather than blue collar jobs.
    Isolationism is not a good idea, and when it comes to outsourcing, or off-shoring as some people prefer to call it, it has been happening since at least the 1970s, and it will continue regardless of whether or not we sign trade agreements. In fact, it may worse if there is no trade agreement.

  2. FireBaron May 13, 2015

    How many measures did McConnell filibuster because he believed the Republicans were not allowed to offer amendments to bills? Now that Reid is doing the same, he feels offended? Something about the shoe being on the other foot comes to mind.

  3. FT66 May 13, 2015

    I think people need to be educated on TRADING. You sell what you have produced, at the same time you buy what other countries have produced. This is like a two way traffic. It is going both ways and neither side is losing. The Trade Pact is very, very important. Jobs will be not lost because of trading with other countries. Even if jobs will be there, if the economy will be shaky, for sure those who are working will receive less of what they are working for. Working is not that you are there and receive less, it is all about receiving what values of what you work for. Trading allows large market for US exports thus bolsters the US economy of which every individual and every citizen needs to see it is flourishing.

  4. Phil Johnson May 13, 2015

    I am a retired vet on SS and cannot decide whether Americans are getting screwed or what their representatives promised, etc. This cleavage within the Democratic party is interesting, but the consequences are more than that because of the secrecy imposed by the administration which handcuffs the solons.

    However, I have a bone to pick. Apparently the Senate went incendiary after
    a last-minute political objection to splitting the 4 bills for debate came to
    the floor just before the vote. The GOP went nuts and called out everyone on
    the other side of the aisle for what was an obvious ploy to delay proceedings.

    In honesty, I could not figure out, after an hour of watching the flailing
    rhetoric, whether “we” won or lost. In part, that was because the
    real Demo objection was founded on the refusal to (supposedly)
    “bundle” the four separate bills (TPA, customs, TAA and currency
    manipulation; I had no idea there were so many) for debate. The GOP rejoinder
    to this last-second objection was: hey, you guys, your own Senator Schumer
    agreed to split the bills for easier debate?! They seemed genuinely aghast at
    this. I know Senator Wyden had to pick his way through the wreckage after a
    “motion to reconsider the vote” (I did not know there was such a
    thing) issued from Mitch McConnell was angrily made – and he ALSO cast a
    “no” vote! And Senator Hatch was barely controlling his temper
    on his oration over the sudden demise of
    four years of work.

    All very amusing, but I can smell deviousness when its odor wafts from the
    TV set. It all goes to show that we, none of us, know what’s really going on. I
    mean, who knew that there were FOUR bills, not just one? None of the Demos were
    registering on the floor the basic objections to the TTP’s flaws of labor/job loss,
    uneven currency field of play, the secrecy issue, and all the others. They all
    took refuge in a “no” vote (similar, as Senator Cornyn pointed out,
    to the last-second objection by Demos to the human trafficking vote a while
    back because there was a hidden Hyde amendment supposedly snuck into the bill
    which went unnoticed), so that means that the 14 Demos who were on record as
    supporting TTP (or the TPA, I am not sure which) ran for cover, all except one.

    So this is not over by any means, but I am writing all this because I want
    an answer to the obvious game-playing going on. No Demo has come out and talked
    about the procedural issues; the American people are still in the dark. And
    now, if they are like me, they are confused.

    What is going on?

    aures lupi

  5. Allan Richardson May 17, 2015

    The BIGGEST objection to the TPP secret deal is the ISDS special tribunals which could OVERRIDE NATIONAL LAWS. Republicans want to regulate some things, Democrats want to regulate other things, but they both agree that IF a state legislature or Congress, speaking for the voters who elected them, believe that a law should be in place, but a foreign business doesn’t like it because it deprives them of some profit (even POTENTIAL FUTURE profit), they could take it to these special courts and get a damage award large enough to force that law to be repealed. A foreign chemical company which sells tetraethyl lead, for example, could sue every advanced country to force the return of leaded gasoline. Never mind the health risk, or the ruining of the catalytic converters which help reduce OTHER pollutants; their profit must be supreme.

    We, and the other nations in the pact, could ultimately have NO SOVEREIGNTY left without abrogating the treaty and refusing to abide by its provisions. We progressives have ASKED the President for assurance (with a reasonable explanation) that there is a way out of this, but there has been no response except “Trust us!”


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