Obama and Republicans lose on free trade bill

Obama and Republicans lose on free trade bill May 14, 2015

A major priority for President Obama is the passage of the Pacific trade accord, a free trade bill that would open up markets in Asia.  But a proposal to fast-track the treaty–allowing a single up-or-down vote, rather than risking death by a thousand amendments–was defeated in the Senate.  All but one Republican took the President’s side, but all but one Democrat voted against him.  The measure fell short of the 60 votes it needed.  Lots of interesting issues here, which I raise after the jump.

UPDATE:  A deal seems to have been struck that will give the bill another shot.

The debate between the merits of free trade vs. protectionism, once thought settled, has been re-opened.  (There was a time when conservatives tended to be protectionist.  Some still are today, though the libertarian position seems ascendant.)  What do you think about this?

Also, it’s remarkable that Senate Republicans are supporting President Obama, and vice-versa.  This reminds us that President Obama, at least on some issues, is closer to Republican positions than lots of other Democrats would be.

And it’s also remarkable that Senate Democrats have so completely deserted their President.  This signals the growing dominance of the Elizabeth Warren, populist, pro-union faction.  (Hillary Clinton, who helped negotiate the treaty as Secretary of State, has been silent on whether or not it should be passed, showing that she too is fearing her party’s leftward turn.)

From Senate Democrats vote to block Obama on trade – The Washington Post:

President Obama collided with his own party Tuesday when Senate Democrats stalled consideration of a trade measure that would give the administration greater authority to negotiate more freely with other countries.

The Senate vote was a sharp blow to the president’s efforts to win approval for a new Asia-Pacific trade bill that has emerged as a top agenda item for Obama. Only one Democratic senator, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, voted with the president Tuesday.

Administration officials and Republican leaders immediately said they would bring a measure back to the Senate floor.

But the setback highlighted the president’s failure to convince Democratic lawmakers, labor union leaders and environmental groups that the 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would help the U.S. economy. Obama has argued that the pact would open markets, promote better labor conditions abroad and protect endangered species and the environment.

Obama has made the trade deal one of his top priorities, and to bolster his ability to finish negotiating the still-secret terms of the accord, he has asked Congress to give him “fast track” trade authority. But a procedural motion to open up debate of the fast-track legislation failed by a 52-to-45 vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed to begin consideration of the complex Pacific trade accord.

Ahead of the vote, White House press secretary Josh Earnest played down crumbling support for the legislation as a “procedural snafu” — a phrase he repeated 10 times — that could be worked out in the coming days. Earnest said fast-track authority was “critically important to the future of our economy.”

But in the Senate, the measure’s failure seemed to be more than a procedural glitch. The trade accord has sparked a Democratic revolt and laid bare a spat between Obama and liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). And it has embittered labor union leaders who feel they helped elect Obama and have received little for their efforts.

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