This week, legislation to give President Obama fast-track trade agreement authority (TPA) will take its star turn in the GOP-controlled Senate. The cloture vote is said to be taking place on Tuesday, and if the 60-vote threshold is reached, the final vote on the bill will happen the same day, or on Wednesday.
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More importantly, however, is the following vote, scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday, on “Trade Adjustment Assistance,” (TAA), also known as the “We sent your job to a Pacific Rim sweatshop in a country with no labor laws where people work for $2 a day during 18-hour shifts making the clothes you used to be able to afford before we laid you off, so here’s ten dollars so you can take in a movie and get your mind off things, but no popcorn for you” bill.
In other words, TAA is a bill to provide “assistance” for all the people who are absolutely going to lose their jobs if the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) passes … and the passage of that trade bill is what all this TPA and TAA mishigas has been about.
“Trade Adjustment Assistance” … isn’t language just such wonderfully malleable putty? It would not in any way surprise me if, somewhere in the dank bowels of a building in Washington DC, there exists a think tank solely dedicated to the crafting and deployment of crass yet terribly effective euphemisms. “The Clear Skies Initiative,” also known as “Let the polluters pollute as much as they want.” “No Child Left Behind,” also known as “Conformity over creativity and critical thinking.” “PATRIOT Act,” also known as “We’re watching you, bub.”
And now, this. You’re not fired, laid off, outsourced, downsized, removed, erased, kicked to the curb, bounced, deleted, expunged, cut, dismissed, chucked, or even screwed. Nope. You’ve been “trade adjusted,” right out onto the sidewalk with a box of your stuff in your arms and a disorienting buzzing noise rattling the inside of your skull. Such a kind euphemism for so traumatic an event. The boys in the bowels of that building sure put the work in on that one.
Let’s say the TPA survives cloture and is passed … and let’s even say that Mitch McConnell trips over his soul in the men’s room and actually allows a vote on TAA, and it survives cloture and then passes … guess what? The money to “assist” people who suffer “trade adjustment” upon passage of the TPP will come from …
Wait for it …
Wait for it …
That’s right! Probably the most successful, well-run social program in US history will take it in the teeth to help support people who lose their jobs to the trade bill that necessitated this “assistance” in the first place.
… and here’s the best part. The original plan was to “sequester” – another brilliantly vile euphemism – about $700 million per year from Medicare to fund “assistance” for everyone who gets “trade adjusted” by the TPP. Republicans balked at the number, not because it was stealing from Medicare, but because it was Just Another Government Welfare Program Argle Bargle Blah. After a series of negotiations between congressional Democrats, Republicans and the White House, they settled on carving out $450 million per year to “assist” the “trade adjusted.”
It’s beautiful, in the way an avalanche on a snow-capped mountain is beautiful before it buries and smothers you.
First, the very existence of the TAA bill means these people in DC know the trade bill will be a job-destroyer in the US. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother, period.
Second, $700 million per year isn’t nearly enough to help all those who will have to hit the bricks once their jobs go away, so $450 million is basically a bad joke.
Third – and this is where the true poetry of evil finds its clarion cry – everyone put on the street by the TPP will someday qualify for a Medicare that is less capable of serving them, because the program has been compensating for the way they lost their job in the first place.
The politicians in DC are working hammer and tong to take millions of people to the cleaners, coming and going. If you lose your job to the TPP, you will get insufficient “assistance,” followed by less-funded Medicare support. If you don’t lose your job, you’ll still be dealing with the smoking hole in Medicare funding made by the trade bill that caused your neighbor to lose her house after she lost her job.
Like as not, the TPA bill will sail through the Senate this week. US steelmakers, who have been embroiled in a fight to see tariffs imposed on rival imports from overseas, have been promised serious attention from the Senate GOP in exchange for their support of the TPA, and by proxy the TPP. Democratic Senators Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden have pledged their support to the TPA bill. Their votes, along with the twelve other Senate Democrats who voted for fast-track authority last month, virtually assure that the cloture threshold will be reached with votes to spare. The rest is just counting.
As for the “Trade Adjustment Assistance” bill? That’s up to Mr. McConnell to bring to a vote, and even if he does, and even if it passes, it’s a button Band-Aid on a gaping wound … and, by the bye, it isn’t as if the US job market is going gangbusters right now. The last thing we need is a trade “deal” that kneecaps job availability. Ask the Millennial with the business degree, but only after he serves you your coffee over a corporate formica countertop. Be sure to tip well; he needs whatever he can get to pay down his student loans.
Upon absorbing these grim realities, many people I speak to express some variation of the sentiment, “This country is falling apart.” I disagree … this country is coming together, after many long years of spending on corporate lawyers and corporate congresspeople, around a new corporate paradigm.
I say “new,” but in truth, it’s actually ancient. Ask the pharaohs, the Stuart Kings, the dynasties, the empires. There is the aristocracy, and there are the muddling masses pitching buckets of piss out of their windows onto the street, laying their shoulders to the foundation block of the pyramid, or dying on a sword in a war they didn’t want to fight, because it is how it is, it is what it is, so get in line, you.
Never fear. The boys in the bowels will concoct a euphemism for this, and we’ll all feel much better.
William Rivers Pitt is Truthout’s senior editor and lead columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.
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