As Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach explained yesterday, the three trade agreements passed Congress in a whirlwind of activity last night, because a present for the President of South Korea’s visit to Washington today is more important than a considered debate about the role of neoliberal trade agreements and what they have traditionally done to US exports. In addition, the House did pass Trade Adjustment Assistance, with every Democrat supporting and about half of Republicans. This had already passed the Senate, so the entire package goes to the President for his signature, and he is pleased about this:
The landmark trade agreements and assistance for American workers that passed tonight are a major win for American workers and businesses. I’ve fought to make sure that these trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama deliver the best possible deal for our country, and I’ve insisted that we do more to help American workers who have been affected by global competition. Tonight’s vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label “Made in America,” support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property. American automakers, farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, including many small businesses, will be able to compete and win in new markets. I look forward to signing these agreements, which will help achieve my goal of doubling American exports and keeping America competitive in the 21st century.
They’re not a win for Colombian trade unionists, as even the weak Action Plan which has failed to protect them from murder was kept on the side and not written into the trade pact, giving it no authority. They are mainly a win for North Korean sweatshop owners and Panamanian tax haven specialists. And, I should add that the President and his entire party just got done saying that Republicans want only to sabotage the economy, and will not let anything pass that creates jobs. Now they are applauding the passage of job-creating trade agreements. Something doesn’t fit.
As Wallach noted, these trade deals did get more opposition from Democrats than ever before under a Democratic President, particularly the Colombian FTA. Obama could not hold more than a sliver of his party to support the deals. That did not really hold in the Senate, which was near-unanimous on Korea and 77-22 on Panama. However, something that Alan Grayson mentioned this week would have had an impact on the Colombia FTA:
Under our Constitution, a “Bill” requires the approval of a majority of both Houses of Congress and the president’s assent, or an override of the president’s veto. But under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, a “Treaty” requires “the Advice and Consent of the Senate … provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”
The Powers That Be know that these “trade agreements” couldn’t get the support of two-thirds of the Senate. In fact, they probably couldn’t get past a filibuster. So they just renamed them. They’re not treaties, they’re just “trade agreements.”
But they sure look like treaties, don’t they? They are agreements between our government and a foreign government. That’s a treaty.
If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck … and it quacks … it’s a duck.
Actually, the PTB did get two-thirds of the Senate to agree to the Korea and Panama pacts. However, on Colombia, the vote was 66-33 with one, Tom Coburn (who is receiving treatment for prostate cancer), not voting. That would mean that, if this were a treaty, which it certainly looks to be, the Senate would have come up one vote short, if I have my Parliamentary procedure correct and 67 would be needed for passage.
Now, maybe one vote could have been found among the 33 to switch. We didn’t get to that point. But it’s worth noting that the unusual path of free trade agreements, seemingly in violation of the Constitution, was able to get the Colombia agreement into law without a holdup. Much to the chagrin of trade unionists in Colombia in constant fear for their lives.