What you need to know about the Colorado delegation’s votes on Obamatrade

Two bulls fighting at La Veta Pass in Colorado

The centerpiece economic policy of the Obama administration is teetering on the brink. Two votes in the House of Representatives later today will decide if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation free trade agreement, moves forward.

The House on Thursday took the first vote related to TPP, on the rules of debate, that shows just how divisive and close today’s votes could be.

Colorado’s delegation split mostly along party lines, with Republican representatives Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton voting in favor. Democrats Diane DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis voted no.

Also voting no: Republican Ken Buck, and that doesn’t sit well with Colorado’s agriculture industry. But whether it’s a prediction of how Buck will vote later today is another matter.

Buck’s “no” vote didn’t come as a surprise to representatives of the agriculture industry, but they still hope that he will listen to his district and vote in favor of a related bill on trade promotion agreements (TPA) on Friday. That bill would give the President fast-track authority on the trade deal.

Terry Fankhauser of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association told The Colorado Independent that he’s had several conversations with Buck about TPA, but has yet to get a response that makes any sense. What’s important to Buck’s district, Fankhauser said, is trade promotion authority and the ability of the administration to effectively negotiate tariffs on beef with Japan. “We expect Congressman Buck to recognize that and help move it forward.”

Agricultural commodities exports are a key provision of the TPA bill, as well as a major goal of Colorado’s agricultural industry. Beef exports in 2013 topped 726 million pounds, with Canada, Japan and South Korea as the top foreign exporters of Colorado beef products. Total agricultural exports in 2014 exceeded $2 billion and double the state’s exports from just five years ago.

The potential of TPA to boost beef exports also is important to Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau. Shawcroft said Thursday that Buck needs to focus on how TPA would help his district rather than playing partisan politics “and trying to punish the current president.” Beef trade is significant in Buck’s district, Shawcroft explained, and TPA holds tremendous potential for employment in that industry.

But Shawcroft also believes the trade deal has been misrepresented as a “carte blanche” for the administration. He said the deal does have parameters set by Congress that provide guidelines to the administration in the negotiations. “It’s vitally important for Colorado and American agriculture that these negotiations move forward,” he explained.

The trade deal has been in the works since November 2009. It would bring about a free-trade agreement between the United States and 11 mostly Asian-Pacific nations, such as Japan and Australia. Mexico and Canada, already partnered with the United States through North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, also are included in the TPP.

The White House says that TPP countries are the largest exporters of U.S. goods and services, totaling $698 billion in 2013. Agricultural exports total $58.8 billion, which is 85 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports.

But Democrats claim the deal is being negotiated in secret and behind closed doors. On Thursday, those opposed to the trade deal said it is being arranged by the “one percent” and controlled by corporations and lobbyists, without any Congressional input or oversight.

President Obama is seeking congressional approval to fast-track the negotiations and then bring the deal back to Congress for final authorization. That authorization, which is contained in the legislation up for vote later today, would come through an up-or-down vote that would not allow Congress to amend the deal in any way.

The fast-track authority is contained in HR 1314, the Trade Act of 2015. It was amended by the Senate and passed on a 62-37 vote on May 22, with Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) voting with the majority. The bill then had to return to the House for adoption of the Senate amendment.

Thursday’s debate on the rules for Friday saw Democrats argue that a vote for the rules would legitimize a second bill to take $700 million in Medicare funds to pay for one of the provisions of the TPA: displaced worker support for Americans who lose their jobs due to the trade deal.

Two of Colorado’s seven House members have gone back and forth about whether they’d support TPA. As recently as April 30, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) was sending constituents a letter that said he supported the partnership but was opposed to the fast-track authority.

Democratic objections to TPA resulted in some arm twisting by the White House. Politico reported last week that Perlmutter spoke one-on-one with the President and afterwards considered supporting the TPA; the president had offered to work with Perlmutter on infrastructure projects.

But Perlmutter was a “no” vote on Thursday, along with fellow Democratic representatives Diana DeGette and Jared Polis. DeGette is a strong “no” vote against TPP. Polis is believed to support TPP, although how he would vote on the fast-track authority is unknown.

The Thursday vote was 217 to 212, with six representatives not voting. Thirty-four Republicans joined 178 Democrats in voting no. The measure needed eight Democrats to vote with the 209 Republicans in favor to pass, votes that came at the tail end of the voting period.


Corrections: Originally, this story read “As recently as April 30, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) was sending constituents a letter that said he supported the partnership but was opposed to the fast-track authority.” In fact, the April 30 letter read: ““I have not yet taken a position on either of the proposed free trade agreements, but I will continue reviewing the proposals based on their potential impact to job creation, businesses and economic growth in Colorado.”

Also, the story read: “Politico reported last week that Perlmutter spoke one-on-one with the President and agreed to support the TPA in exchange for work on infrastructure projects.” Instead, Politico reported that Perlmutter might support the bill after a conversation with the president. The Politico article did not make the claim that Perlmutter agreed to support the TPA in exchange for Obama’s support of infrastructure, as this story original stated.




Photo credit: Larry Lamsa, Creative Commons, Flickr.

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.