Did Harry Reid KO Obama's Asian, European FTAs?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/02/2014 11:28:00 AM
Reid Floors Obama with Lethal 1-2 Combination
The traditional constituency of the United States' Democratic Party has always included organized labor. Despite union membership continuing to fall, organized labor remains crucial to the fortunes of many Democratic candidates come election time given their organizational strengths in mounting get-out-the-vote efforts. Tensions have always existed in the Democratic Party about the benefits of "modernizing" in the Reaganite, investor-friendly sense: fewer worker benefits, easier to hire and fire, etc.

Both Democratic presidents of recent memory, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made it a standard ploy to court organized labor during election time and then ditch it after elections are won. However, it is not that easy for rank-and-file members in the legislature who do not have term limits to pull off this about-face. What's more, these can be quite powerful politicians.

A sign of Obama's lame duck status--he cannot have another term as president--is of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hitting Obama with massive blows on trade. A few days ago, the one-time boxer Reid reiterated that he will not grant Obama fast-track status for negotiated free trade agreements. At the moment, the major US initiatives are expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Asia and forming the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. I've already mentioned how it will be quite challenging for either to be concluded unless significantly watered-down, but Harry Reid adds another complication. Without granting fast-track status to his president, Reid makes it possible for lawmakers to change the contents of the negotiated agreements with Asian or European counterparts instead of the legislature simply voting for or against these FTAs as hammered out during international negotiations:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke publicly with the White House Wednesday on trade policy, instantly imperiling two major international trade deals and punching a hole in one piece of the economic agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address a day earlier. Mr. Reid told reporters he opposed legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of free-trade agreements, a vital component to negotiating any deal, and pointedly said supporters should back down.

"I'm against fast track," Mr. Reid (D., Nev.) said, using the shorthand term for legislation that prevents overseas trade agreements from being amended during the congressional approval process. "I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now."

The move spells trouble for two sets of complicated talks, one with the European Union and the other with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Both deals likely would have required such a "fast track" approval to clear the Congress. The U.S.'s negotiating partners wouldn't likely commit to a final agreement that could be unpopular back home without assurances that it couldn't be modified by U.S. lawmakers. 
And lest we forget, there's organized labor lurking...
Mr. Reid, whose state has a heavy union presence, has long opposed trade deals. He also represents a caucus with several vulnerable Democrats up for election in November who might have been forced to choose between Mr. Obama and the unions that help finance campaigns.
"I think there's a lot of dubiousness in our caucus to fast track, given that every time we sign a free-trade agreement it seems other countries violate the rules and we don't," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a member of the Senate Democratic leadership.
So much for party discipline as Reid hits Obama immediately after his SOTU address. Reid is probably calculating that Obama's days are already numbered anyway, and that it's better to offend the president than traditional Democratic constituencies. Can the party afford to lose its majority in the Senate? Especially during sour economic times like the present, the Democrats' protectionist streak usually comes to the forefront. Republicans are usually more in favor of free trade and vote for such deals, but the current political situation may be inauspicious as Tea Party Republicans seemingly vote against Obama on anything--even expanding trade which is a traditional Republican advocacy.

Moreover, George W. Bush had fast track authority for most of his presidency but was unable to get any major FTAs completed, so its efficacy in concluding deals is very much dependent on first having successful negotiations at the international level.