Bernies working.
No, Bernie, your other left. Albert H. Teich /

Today the New York Times reports that a procedural measure regarding the Trade Promotional Authority (TPA) squeaked by the senate, all but ensuring the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade bill that Obama has been salivating over for months.

If you need a little help wading through that alphabet soup, let the following paragraphs serve as a snorkel. We'll talk about Bernie and Hillary when we come up for air.

Obama really wants to pass a trade agreement called the TPP, which is designed to reduce China's economic influence in the region by, among other things, removing tariffs on goods traded between the US and 11 other nations in the Pacific Rim, including Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Peru. All told, the agreement addresses our financial relationship with countries representing 40 percent of the world's GDP. Obama sees this deal as his last major piece of legislation, the biggest trade deal since NAFTA, a crowning achievement of neoliberal principles.

In order to pass this bill, Obama also needs to pass its friend, the TPA, which will give Obama the power to negotiate more freely, removing congressional power to add amendments and forcing them to vote on the TPP agreement in an up-or-down fashion. This TPA thing is necessary because the participating countries don't want to sign on to agreements only to have the US Congress start making a bunch of changes that those countries would then have to reassess. Let that kind of back-and-forth happen at the executive level, the thinking goes, and the agreement can be hashed out before Obama hands over the keys.

As with all trade bills: Some jobs will be lost, some jobs will gained. Since many on the left and right fear that the TPP will hurt US jobs in particular, especially in manufacturing sectors, Obama also wants to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which would help the people who were negatively affected by the bill to find jobs and get education. I should also say that many Democrats don't like this bill because they fear it amounts to a giant corporate takeover of the world that gives foreign companies the power to sue the US when business isn't doing as well as they expected it to.

Last week, in an effort to shut down this whole train, Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi voted against the TAA bill because it was linked to the TPA bill. Now, the bills are both rolling through as stand-alones. The big issue here is that the TPA vote comes before the TAA vote, and Dems don't want to get trapped having voted for the free trade bill without knowing if the TAA bill will also pass to offset domestic job loss. Because he loves him some free trade, Mitch McConnell has given assurances that the conservative votes to pass the TAA bill later in the week will be there.

Since the bill involves some conservative members of Congress supporting lefty causes in order to support center-y and right-y causes like free trade agreements, this whole fucking thing has destroyed everyone's brain.

Except for Bernie Sanders's brain. His brain is fine, but he's pissed. In response to the legislation passed today, Bernie said: "The vote today—pushed by multi-national corporations, pharmaceutical companies, and Wall Street—will mean a continuation of disastrous trade policies which have cost our country millions of decent-paying jobs.”

Hillary, on the other hand, doesn't know what she wants to do. Last Thursday, she said that she "probably wouldn't" vote for the TPA because it's "procedural" and also because she wants assurances that the TAA would also pass, all of which, she was quick to add, was not the same as saying she would not vote for the TPP. However, when Hillary said she "probably" wouldn't vote for the TPA because it was a "procedural" bill, she was being disingenuous. Yeah, it's "procedural," but she knows that a yes vote would help push the bill along. Since the vote this morning, all's been quiet on the Hillary front.

It's possible that her trepidation on this issue represents a new, more cautious Hillary. By not backing a bill whose exact contents are largely unknown, whose contents can, in fact, only be known if you've got the time to enter a guarded basement beneath the capitol and read the 800-plus-page document-in-progress and promise to leave your notebook at home, she won't get caught supporting something off-brand. But that's a hard line of argument to follow, especially when you consider the fact that, per a CNN count, she'd publicly and strongly supported the TPP as secretary of state.

Given her strong support of the deal in the past, her waffling on this issue gives credence to the notion that Bernie's working to push Hillary to the left. Over at Bloomberg, Albert Hunt talked to a Democratic strategist close to the Clintons who said that Bernie would stand to gain "10 or more points in the polls," if Hillary supports TPP. Bernie's already polling well in Wisconsin and New Hampshire, drawing huge crowds during travel, and also raising money at an impressive rate. Hillary's got to be seeing all this action not as a fringe element of the far left being whipped into a froth, but as a serious slice of the Democratic Party that hungrier for legislation that's left of what Obama was able to achieve.

The notion that Bernie is pushing Hillary left is a relatively common theory, but one that hasn't been borne out yet by a major issue in the race thus far. And this is a major issue, despite the snoozefest that is the particulars of this agreement. One of these candidates might inherit the new, mega-globalized US that will emerge when this deal goes through. And if/when domestic jobs tank or the US starts getting sued to death because multinationals with offices in participating countries are unhappy with their investments, or even if free trade finally bears the fruit of across-the-board prosperity as supporters always promise, one of them is going to be held accountable.