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Congressional Watch – July 2015

Posted: July 10th, 2015 | Congressional Watch, Featured, News | No Comments

By Andy Cohen

It was another interesting month with a flurry of activity in Congress, with some interesting stands from San Diego’s representatives.

If you follow the news at all, you’ll know that June was the month that Congress passed the trade promotion authority (TPA), a bill that gives President Obama the authority to negotiate trade pacts without congressional input.

us-congressional-sealEssentially what TPA does is allow the president to negotiate the pact and present it to Congress for an up or down vote; no alterations or amendments allowed from the legislative branch. The president is now free to complete negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

The agreement’s passing wasn’t without a great deal of drama and contention, however.

Opponents of the TPP — largely Democrats — pulled out all the stops to prevent President Obama from gaining TPA, including their decision to oppose en masse a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill that was attached to the TPA which Democrats heavily favor (and Republicans generally oppose).

TAA provides resources to retrain workers who lose their jobs if, for example, their employer pulls up stakes and relocates their operations to another country where it’s cheaper to operate — a move that would be enabled by the TPP free trade agreement.

Most opposition to the TPP stems from America’s experience with North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by President Clinton in 1993.

NAFTA was sold to the American public as a way to boost the economies of all three member nations — the United States, Canada and Mexico — by removing barriers to trade and treating each nation’s goods equally. It was expected that under NAFTA the Mexican economy would eventually catch up to that of the U.S. and Canada via increased trade and that wages in Mexico would steadily rise until reaching near equilibrium.

NAFTA stipulated that the Mexican government would have to make certain investments in technological advances, education and environmental protections. Proponents argued that while initially, at least, manufacturers would rush to take advantage of cheap labor available in Mexico, with the investments the Mexican government was required to make, that imbalance would level off.

Those investments largely never materialized, U.S. manufacturers permanently fled the U.S. for cheap labor in Mexico (and elsewhere), and the U.S. manufacturing economy virtually collapsed, taking millions of jobs with it.

Opponents are concerned that the same will happen with the TPP, only on a much larger scale, potentially devastating American workers.”

So in order to kill the president’s chances of gaining TPA and thus all but killing the TPP, Democrats staged a protest. They voted against the TAA, hoping to effectively kill TPA. The TAA portion of the bill initially went down in flames — and TPA with it — failing in a 302-126 vote. 144 Democrats voted ‘no’ on TAA, and only 86 Republicans voted ‘yes.’

What was interesting was how the vote broke down amongst San Diego’s Congressional delegation: Scott Peters (D-52) and Susan Davis (D-53) bucked their party leadership and were two of only 40 Democrats to vote ‘yes’ on the bill, joined by Darrell Issa (R-49), one of the 86 Republican ‘yes’ votes. Duncan Hunter (R-50) voted against TAA. Peters and Davis also voted ‘yes’ on the TPA portion of the bill, again bucking Democratic leadership, which urged its caucus to vote against both TPA and TAA. Both Hunter and Issa joined them.

Juan Vargas (D-51) was a “no-vote” on both portions, meaning he didn’t weigh in at all on either TAA or TPA, major bills that figured heavily into national headlines.

Through legislative maneuvering, both TPA and TAA eventually passed via an unusual alliance between President Obama and Republicans in Congress. Local leaders view the Trans Pacific Partnership as a potential boon to San Diego, noting how the city is uniquely located to take advantage of this new trade alliance.

“San Diego is a port city that depends on trade, especially with Mexico and Asia,” Peters said in a press release. “Our innovative economy, led by Qualcomm and other hi-tech, biotech and life science companies, depends on access to foreign markets with protections for American-made intellectual property.”

“I voted for TPA because, for America to be the leader we all want it to be, America needs to be the nation that makes the rules and sets the standards in a global marketplace,” he continued. “If America doesn’t seize this opportunity to lead, other nations — especially China — will. China’s rules, like its record, would have little regard for even the most basic of human rights and environmental standards. This rigs the system in their favor, and tips the scales against American workers.

congressRep. Hunter is apparently in favor of the United States negotiating with terrorists, particularly in hostage situations. The Obama administration last month changed its policy to allow families to negotiate and pay ransom for loved ones being held hostage by terrorist groups, previously considered a criminal act.

Hunter, one of the most outspoken critics of the administration’s policies on U.S. hostage issues, doesn’t believe this shift goes far enough.

“After a long, drawn-out review of U.S. hostage policy, the changes offered up by the White House prove that neither the right questions were asked nor were any lessons learned,” Hunter said in a statement to Buzzfeed News. “Wholesale changes are needed, but what’s being put forward is nothing more than window dressing, I fear.”

Hunter is an ardent supporter of Army Special Forces Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, who believes that the U.S. government should directly negotiate with terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, to secure the return of American hostages being held abroad by those groups. 

—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at ac76@sbcglobal.net.

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