A bright red signboard truck is rolling between Stanislaus and Fresno counties this week, protesting two area congressmen’s “aye” votes on the House version of a major trade initiative.
“It’s attracting a lot of attention,” said Modesto driver Greg Johnson. Johnson said the bold red background with stark white type has drawn more interest than any signs he’s driven in the six years he’s worked for Eye Catching Media, Inc.
He hastens to add this is not his political statement. “I just drive the truck,” he said. The signs come as tarps he hangs on the truck’s roomy frame. The signs say they were paid for by Blue America PAC, giving a Facebook page of Blue America and an email address.
This five-day gig will send Johnson driving for eight hours each day through Fresno and Madera. He covered Ceres, Turlock and Modesto on Monday, the Fresno area Tuesday and returned Wednesday to Stanislaus County.
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Every day is a different route, but all track through the Highway 99 corridor that Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, call home. Both are featured, one on each side – two massive heads rolling down the road alongside text protesting their votes.
“Congressman Jeff Denham just voted to cut your mom’s Medicare by $700 million to finance a trade agenda that sends your job to China,” reads the Denham side. Costa’s side just trades out the name. On the narrow back strip it says, “Ask your Congressman ...” and then repeats the message.
At issue is a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and an accompanying provision granting the president “trade promotion authority,” or TPA, that would limit Congress to voting yes or no – with no amendments or filibustering – on the pact. Opponents of the pact have called it a threat to U.S. workers’ jobs.
The Denham camp called the truck-borne signs “disingenuous and misleading.”
“Congressman Denham supported legislation to eliminate the Medicare cuts that were contained in the Senate version of TPA, and he supported legislation to increase trade and bring jobs to the Central Valley. This a disingenuous and misleading line of attack,” Denham press secretary Jordan Langdon said in response to a Bee inquiry.
Blue America, however, stood behind the Blue America PAC political ads, saying the message referred to an earlier vote that included the Medicare cut. Denham voted against that portion of what was then a two-part package, but the group called that sleight of hand.
“Costa voted for both halves. Denham voted for one half. But the clear intent of the House Republicans was to pass both halves,” said a Blue America spokesman who would give only the pen name Gaius Publius. “Any vote for any piece was a vote for the whole package to succeed,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The trade bill was originally a two-part package approved by the Senate. One part, with President Barack Obama’s fast-track authority and without the Medicare cut, passed the House on June 18, with yes votes by Denham and Costa. The changed bill returned to the Senate, passing with a 60-38 vote on Wednesday after overcoming a filibuster attempt Tuesday.
The second part of the trade bill package, which failed to pass the House, would have give assistance to those who lost their jobs or businesses because of the trade deal. The Trade Adjustment Assistance bill failed June 12, with Denham voting against it and Costa voting for it. The Medicare connection was an on-paper cost offset included in that bill, a 0.25 percent trim to Medicare benefits that would have extended sequester cuts to 2024.
The aid portion of the bill will be taken up separately. The Republican camp backed the fast-track authority, which was opposed by many Democrats. The assistance provisions are favored by most Democrats, who now must convince enough Republicans to vote for it.