I’m writing this 60 days out from the 2016 U.S. elections. Given that this election has followed no established rules or expectations up to this point, that may not be much of a disadvantage.
I’ve said ever since the disaster in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, that I really didn’t think Hillary Clinton would be the Democrat candidate in November 2016. As you are probably aware, Clinton’s candidacy has been wounded not so much from her missteps regarding the attacks in Benghazi but by her handling of classified state secrets with all the aplomb of a clown juggling chainsaws wearing boxing gloves.
With thousands of pages of her emails yet to be released and a promised October or earlier surprise from Wikileaks, the left in the U.S. will have to decide, at best, between voting for an extremely tarnished and wounded candidate or staying home and polishing up their “I told you so” lines. Her actual departure is unlikely but still possible.
Conservatives and other Republican species have their own dilemma. As I’ve explained since 2014, a huge gap has grown between conservative Republican Congressmen and party leadership. The nomination of Donald Trump, having survived primary elections with 17 other candidates, is a direct response of the electorate expressing that same disapproval of leadership. So establishment Republican politicians boldly proclaiming themselves Never-Trump just reinforces conservative voters’ fury.
There are signs that those fed up with American politics are not just Republican voters but folks so fed up they haven’t voted in years. I am ashamed to say that the percentage of eligible voters who vote in an American presidential election hovers in the mid-40 per cent range. A big turnout of those who normally don’t vote and, therefore, are not included in “registered voters” or “likely voters” normally polled in surveys, could likely benefit Trump to a significant degree and surprise everyone.
So Canadians looking for a rooting interest in the election, trade questions aside, should consider that a win for Hillary Clinton would see acceleration of the same policy directions as the Obama administration. Again, aside from TPP, which is about the only major positive thing for agriculture to come from Obama, we’ve seen an administration that pushed COOL, pushed climate change issues, pushed a rule to prohibit packers from paying premiums for better cattle/carcasses and, along the politically correct lines prevalent today, gave hundreds of millions of dollars to black farmers claiming discrimination in farm programs and recently pushed a new program designed to help lesbians, gays and transgender folks get started in farming. Their priority was often not the mainstream family farm and ranch operation.
Clinton has promised to push for higher taxes and more regulation and her federal and Supreme Court picks would certainly further an anti-business, pro-government control agenda.
If Trump does pull off the improbable, he promises to push for a list of things that would definitely help the general economy and agriculture. Cutting both personal and corporate tax rates, repealing and replacing Obamacare (national healthcare) and cutting back or repealing a whole host of regulations and restrictions, would benefit the overall economy drastically, in turn boosting demand for ag products and unleashing productivity. More Americans with jingle in their jeans should help make us better customers for Canadian products.
Of course, trade policy is front and centre for Canadians. Since neither candidate favours expanding free trade at this point, there is another route TPP proponents will try. After U.S. elections in early November, there are about eight weeks before a new Congress settles in and 10 weeks before the new president actually takes office. This is called the lame duck session of Congress, if it is held, because a certain percentage of members of Congress will have lost their re-election bids. Since they don’t have to be concerned about answering to voters in the next election, in theory, at least, they might find themselves freer to vote their conscience rather than vote to avoid trouble with powerful constituents. It is a session appealing to cynics and skeptics.
It is to this lame duck session of Congress that TPP proponents are aiming. It would not be easy to get TPP considered. As per usual, Congress has not passed most of the 13 appropriations bills it is supposed to have in place each year by the September 30 budget year-end. Having taken August off, they can’t wait to leave in October to go back to campaigning. So spending bills alone will clog up the rest of the regular session and, perhaps, the lame duck as well.
The Senate leadership has flatly said no to TPP consideration in 2016. Given the leadership’s propensity for frustrating voters, businesses and conservative members of Congress, that’s not surprising. Neither is it final.
On the other hand, often asleep at their giant switches, big businesses that export are awakening to the peril to their export divisions if the biggest trade deal in decades slips away. Agriculture is pushing, with NCBA actually running ads in politically important media showing the cost of every day without TPP ($367,000), while Australia benefits from its agreement with Japan.
It must be frustrating for you watch the political circus we are running down here, given our status as customer, supplier and neighbour. Imagine how we feel!