Dems slow-walk move to agreement, which likely means vote in 2020... if then
Covering the “pending” vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a lot like monitoring the U.S./China trade war: both sides talk and meet a lot, but few concrete developments ever result or are sustained.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and the White House haven’t reached a deal on the stalled USMCA, Neal said following a meeting today with Pelosi and USTR Bob Lighthizer.
It’s still possible to have a vote in the House by the end of December, Neal told reporters. He did not specify if that was this year or next....
From one issue to 2.5 or 3? While some Democrats previously said the USMCA topic was down to one issue, enforcement, Neal said before the meeting there were five issues and “in all seriousness we think we are down to two and a half to three issues.” Go figure that one out in all seriousness.
Neal plans to talk with Lighthizer and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, as well as Pelosi during the Thanksgiving recess. Talk. Talk. Talk.
Pelosi earlier today said even if they reach deal on the “stalled” USMCA, there might not be time to vote this year before the end of December. That's called a setup for nonaction. Football players know it as a punt.
“I’m eager to get this done,” Pelosi said ahead of today's meeting, leaving one to recheck the definition of “eager.”
Pelosi also said she will not agree to a superficial deal without a strengthened enforcement provision that would amount to “NAFTA with sugar on top.” She has used such phrases for months. She obviously doesn't care if she upsets sugar growers... House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who hails from the largest sugar beet growing county in the country, should take note.
Any verbal agreement would still need to be drafted into legislation, evaluated for its budget impact and considered in committee, Pelosi detailed, listing off items likely designed to cover the inability of her party to get to the vote process. Changes in the text of the agreement would also need to be agreed to by Mexico and Canada, she said. That would take time in Mexico, which has already approved the “pending” USMCA. Prior commentary mostly said a new text would not be needed.
“We certainly made progress today,” Pelosi said, without detailing the progress, other than saying Democrats “narrowed their differences” in talks with Lighthizer.
Republicans, some moderate Democrats and the business community, including most farm and commodity groups, have increased pressure on Pelosi as they grow more concerned that pushing the USMCA vote into an election year could make it less likely to happen.
“She’s always close to allowing a vote. Her conference is always almost there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) said of Pelosi on the Senate floor Wednesday. “But we’ve been almost there for months and months with no outcome in sight. Lots of talk; zero results.”
Pelosi’s spokesman Henry Connelly shot back on Twitter that Democrats were trying to make the deal enforceable in order to improve conditions for U.S. workers. “Senator McConnell would prefer to lock workers into a weak trade deal that lets big corporations keep outsourcing American jobs,” he tweeted.
Bottom line: House Democrats may claim a possible agreement without a vote is governing, but the legislative checklist of completed items for this session of Congress may look like a turkey that was put into the oven without turning on the heat.