The real story on the TPA: Freedom Caucus sticks it to Boehner

As many know, I am very disappointed in the nature of the public debate on TPA and free trade generally. I think that if more people were really honest about themselves, they would say that NAFTA was a bad idea and that they don’t really support any future NAFTAs. While that would disappoint me, I wouldn’t be fired up about it enough to write anything on the topic.

Instead we get a lot of what I would consider red herrings, stalking horses, and other non-core rebuttals.  Arguments like “what is the rush?” (something nobody would ask if we were talking tax cuts, regulatory reforms, or other pro-market policy changes), “I just don’t trust Obama” (as if trust was a necessary element for dealing in agreements where relevant parties can be contained and constrained by operational structures and procedures, and yes Obama has been contained on many issues), and “TPA violates the Constitutional requirement for a 2/3 vote by the Senate” (which is contrary to consistent Constitutional interpretation going back to Thomas Jefferson’s day).

Anyway, it turns out that the reporting on what has been happening in the House is pretty much 100% wrong.   Yes, the conservatives in the House are rebelling against Boehner.  But the nature of that fight has not been accurately reported on in the media, at least not in a way that made sense to me.  I definitely had not seen much of anything in the media that made sense to me approaching the issue of trade from a conventional conservative position.

Today, there were two articles on this subject that are well worth reading. Oppose TPA or support it, I believe that these articles actually describe what is going on.

The first article is in the National Review article titled Jim Jordan Puts GOP Leadership on Notice.  There is a corresponding piece in the Daily Signal has a headline that is a bit more interest in terms of the TPA, Why Conservatives Blame Republican Leadership for Failure on Trade.

Apparently, Boehner has been so focused on courting Democrat votes for the TPA that he has ignored conservatives.  The Daily Signal is heavy with quotes from [mc_name name=”Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)” chamber=”house” mcid=”L000573″ ].

“What’s most interesting to me is this is the second or third time they’ve [House leadership] negotiated with Democrats and the Democrats go back on their word and they still don’t come to the conservatives to talk,” said Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, speaking at a monthly House conservative lunch before reporters on Capitol Hill.”

Making matters even worse, Boehner trusted the Democrats when c0nservatives knew better.

“Because if they would come and talk to me I could have told them what the Democrats were doing. But they never asked. They are not willing to work with some of us. But we can help them with this process, and we can work with them and are willing to work with them.”

Conservatives voted down the package because they opposed TAA and they opposed the import-export bank, but they did not oppose the TPA.

Conservatives generally oppose that program—Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA [JS note: this is different than the TPA] —because they view it as a form of “social welfare,” as Rep. Jim Jordan calls it

Basically, the conservatives in the House want to pass TPA without the negative left-wing add-ons.

While conservatives support not tying fast-track authority with TAA, they still wish party leaders will appease other concerns they have, such as not allowing a vote on the Ex-Im Bank attached to the trade bill.

Conservatives also want stronger “checkpoints” under the fast-track oversight process that would allow them to more easily vote down Obama’s potential trade deal with Pacific Rim nations—known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership—if they don’t like the agreement.

“We hope to have the chance to work with leadership to do a trade package that makes sense, that keeps the safeguards in place, that doesn’t have this social welfare program of TAA, and where Ex-Im Bank goes away,” said Jordan, R-Ohio, who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

In the end, the complaint was simply a lack of effort to address the concerns of conservatives.

But conservatives say better outreach to them would at least give Trade Promotion Authority a chance.

“All they needed to do was just put TPA on the floor or produce a TPA with amendments that people were asking for,” Labrador said.

“And then you have a conference committee [to discuss disagreements with the Senate] and then out of conference, comes something that probably gets an overwhelming majority in both houses,” he said.

“All that we’re asking for is an open process, and what’s happening here—and happening time and time again—is they want a top down leadership where they tell us exactly the way every bill needs to be,” Labrador added. “When they try to dictate what the final outcome needs to be, that’s not leadership, that’s tyranny.”

The story in the National Review confirms that the conservative revolt in the House is not against the TPA per se, but against the add-ons and lack of outreach to conservatives.

Led by [mc_name name=’Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’J000289′ ] (R., Ohio), a platoon of conservatives demanded that Boehner agree to a series of concessions in exchange for their support for so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), legislation that would give President Obama wider latitude to negotiate free-trade agreements. When GOP leadership ignored them, Jordan and his allies tried to kill the bill on a procedural vote — a rare step made more surprising by the lawmakers’ general support for free trade. It was the boldest attempt yet from the recently formed House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan chairs, to counteract Boehner’s perceived tendency to wilt in the face of Democratic pressure.

Boehner apparently rejected conservative amendments in an effort to chase Democratic amendments and Democratic votes.

Last week, leadership galvanized Jordan and his allies by refusing to allow Republican amendments to TPA, even as they negotiated with Democrats in an attempt to rally enough votes to make up for the GOP defections. “So, the Democrats basically got to amend the process; we didn’t,” Jordan says. “That’s a frustration that members have, as well.”

Jordan offered the following deal to Boehner, a deal which will likely allow the TPA to pass the House.

Jordan had offered to deliver about two dozen votes for TPA, enough for Republicans to pass the bill without Democratic help, on three conditions: that GOP leadership include an amendment that sets up “checkpoints” at which the Republican conference could decide if the trade agreement proceeds; that they kill a union-friendly job-training program for workers affected by the free-trade deal, which Senate Republicans had backed in order to win Democratic votes; and that Boehner promise not to allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. (Jordan wanted Boehner’s word on Ex-Im because Senate Majority Leader [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] had promised to allow a vote on the bank’s reauthorization in order to get Democrats to drop their filibuster of the trade package.)


#1.  If Jordan knows what he is talking about, TPA will be passed by the House as a stand-alone measure.  The conservative version probably won’t get through the Senate, so the policy difference is minimal but the political difference is large.

#2. The debate and infighting in the House on the TPA has absolutely ZERO resemblance to the debate and argument occurring in the media, and on the Internet in places like RedState.  Whether politicians are doing what you want or what you don’t want, the reasoning behind those actions is not reflected in conservative media.  It is as if we are living in two different universes.

#3. The ideologically driven caucuses in the House both made substantively surprising moves for procedural purposes.  The Freedom Caucus tanked a free-trade objective that they would otherwise support, for tactical purposes in dealing with leadership.  Pelosi’s membership tanked the social welfare of the TAA that they would otherwise support, to stop the TPA.

There are some interesting things happening in DC.  Worth reading some of the tea leaves. Given the amount of heat TPA has generated, I though I would share the two articles cited and quoted above.