The Coming Democratic Trade Wars

Recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has received much punditry in Washington.  This article is not about free trade or what should be the parameters of a good trade deal.  Nor is it about Obama’s request to fast-track the agreement.

Instead, there is a developing schism within the Democratic Party that is both interesting and amusing.  While the press obsesses over the Republican Establishment versus the Tea Party meme, it would appear there is a similar dynamic in the Democratic Party.  It will be most interesting to see where Queen Shrillary falls on this issue since it was her husband who signed the previously largest trade agreement into law and is the template for the TPP, which would be NAFTA.

Among the Democrats, there is the contingent beholden to unions and environmentalists aligning with the consumerists.  Collectively, I call them the Naderites.  They would be to the Left what some believe the Tea Party is to the Right.  Their fear is that the TPP will weaken existing environmental, labor, food and product safety laws as well as financial regulations which they believe are not as strict as they should be right now.  Unions fear off-shoring of jobs.  This is especially troublesome for them since they are bleeding members (and dues).  Unions right now are fighting a two-front battle against Democrats on TPP and against Republicans on other issues like Right to Work and card check legislation.

On the other side, you have the Obamots- those who follow the Obama agenda line for line.  They are the Democratic leadership in Congress- people like Pelosi and Reid and Schumer- the Establishment Democrats.  They are the Democrats akin to Boehner and McConnell.  They have to reign in the Naderites and gain their votes.  Hence, we hear the appeals to party unity, doing things for the better good, etc.

However, there is that rising chorus against this deal.  If and when McConnell places a bill to grant Obama the fast track authority he desires, one can expect some strange voting alignments.  There is serious opposition on both sides of the aisle, but for differing reasons.  On the Left, Democrats oppose it because they are pandering to their base constituencies.  On the Right, the opposition is born of a very real fear that some sovereignty is being surrendered, and a general distrust of Obama.

Regardless of the differing reasons, the staunchest conservatives may end up standing with the staunchest liberals in Congress.  Of course, the GOP would get the blame for any impasse; that comes with the territory for being in the majority and having a lap dog compliant press in your corner if you are a Democrat.  Come to think of it, even if in the minority, that compliant press will blame you.

The tricky part is that even though Obama may get what he wants, he will have to rely on those obstructionist Republicans in Congress.  Further, he will not be President when the treaty goes into effect.  Instead, it may be Hillary Clinton who occupies the Oval Office as the “champion of the people.”  Being the prospective leader of her party, she will have to weigh in at some point and take a stand beyond generic comments like, “We have to wait to see the details.”  She is running for President, not testifying at a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

There is the additional pressure of being the wife of the President who signed NAFTA into law.  Is she as committed to free trade as was her husband, Bill?  If not, then why not?  If you support TPP, do you also support NAFTA?  If you support one and not the other, what are the differences?  Looking back in hindsight, would you support NAFTA today?  So many questions and so few answers.  Throw in some pandering to the Left and you have the potential for some amusing dynamics, so sit back and enjoy.