Of course, that's pretty typical. Our politics is too often cast as a power game between individuals and/or groups rather than as a difference over policies. The media lens is most often on the horse race of which politicians won/lost rather than on how these votes will actually affect the American people. Is it any wonder why people tune out and get cynical about the process?
And then, of course, there are a lot of headlines like this:
It's true that Pelosi voted "no" on both Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Promotion Authority yesterday. As a result, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO who has been lobbying hard against TPA, took a victory lap.
"Nancy Pelosi has always fought for working families and today her leadership on the trade package vote was instrumental in the House voting against another bad trade deal," he said.But Nancy Pelosi didn't vote "against another bad trade deal." She voted against Trade Promotion Authority. It's important to note that Trumka is on record that he would never, under any circumstances, support Trade Promotion Authority (or so-called "fast track").
In fact, Trumka says the AFL-CIO wouldn't accept fast-track under any circumstances.Both Trumka and the headline-writer above should note what Rep. Pelosi said about her votes yesterday.
When I asked him if his organization would approve of TPA if the pact contained everything that unions wanted, he gave an emphatic no:
"...We think that’s the most undemocratic thing you can do. We think that’s dangerous."
"The overwhelming vote today is a clear indication that it’s time for Republicans to sit down with Democrats to negotiate a trade promotion authority bill that is a better deal for the American people," Pelosi wrote to Democrats after the vote.President Obama wants Trade Promotion Authority to pass. If Rep. Pelosi can get him a better deal on that from Republicans than the one that was voted on yesterday, I'm sure he'd be in favor of that. Richard Trumka...not so much.
Finally, there is the whole issue of Democrats voting against a program they have always supported: Trade Adjustment Assistance - which provide financial support and training to workers who have been affected by foreign trade.
What has happened historically is that when presidents of either party wanted TPA in order to negotiate trade agreements, Democrats have insisted on TAA as a way to mitigate the damages to those who are displaced by such deals. In other words, they have used the desire of presidents and Republicans to get TPA to leverage support for American workers. The truly historical thing that happened yesterday is that House Democrats may have given up that leverage. Folks like David Dayen think that's a good thing.
What Obama was proposing was a trick, one used repeatedly to advance distasteful policies, by getting each side to vote only on the parts they like. And House progressives responded by saying they wouldn’t play that game anymore. If they can withstand the pressure, not only will trade be derailed, but the era of the split-vote gambit, where opponents help the victors, will be over.That "trick" he talks about is the same one that Democrats have typically used to do things like get food stamps for poor people by including them in the Farm Bill. Like it or not, its how Washington works because governing requires compromise.
What a lot of people missed is that it was this move by Democrats in the House that seems to have been the focus of President Obama's message to them yesterday.
He specifically asked them not to play games with trade authority by sinking the related Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, which Democrats typically support as a salve for workers in the wake of trade deals, according to several sources in the room. Unions and some liberal Democrats have targeted that bill for defeat because a loss would kill the fast-track bill. And Obama gave the argument a partisan edge.In other words, the message that apparently insulted Rep. DeFazio was that Democrats shouldn't mirror the lunatic Republican caucus in the House by giving up their leverage and abandoning the possibility of compromise.
"I didn't expect people to vote for it," the president said of the trade power, according to one of the sources in the room. "I did expect we would play it straight. ... What I don't want us to do is to start becoming like the other party."
It's clear that Minority Leader Pelosi plans to use that leverage to try to get a better deal from Republicans. What remains to be seen is whether enough House Democrats will be persuaded to actually govern.