Fast Track to Hell: Trade Bill Officially Introduced in Congress

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Fast Track to Hell: Trade Bill Officially Introduced in Congress

'Congress shouldn’t throw Americans under the bus by giving up its authority over this unprecedented giveaway to multinational corporations.'

"This bill is a climate disaster, and amounts to nothing more than a taxpayer-funded handout to corporations," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, in response to the announced deal.  (Photo: AMG photography/flickr)

The fight over Fast Track just got real.

U.S. House and Senate leaders announced Thursday afternoon that they have reached a deal on legislation aimed at jamming the Trans Pacific Partnership through Congress.

"Congress shouldn’t throw Americans under the bus by giving up its authority over this unprecedented giveaway to multinational corporations." —Murshed Zaheed, CREDO

The so-called Fast Track bill (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015), which would make it easier for President Barack Obama's administration to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them, includes compromise provisions added in order to "win over" Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

According to the New York Times:

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, had to agree to stringent requirements for the trade deal to win over Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the finance panel. Those requirements included a human-rights negotiating objective that has never existed in trade agreements, according to lawmakers involved in the talks.

The legislation would also make any final trade agreement public for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes. If the agreement, negotiated by the United States Trade Representative, fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress — on labor, environmental and human rights standards — a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off “fast track” trade rules and open the deal to amendments.

In a statement, Wyden—who watchdog groups had targeted as a key vote on Fast Track—defended his support for the bill.

"Opening foreign markets, where most of the world’s consumers reside, is critical to creating new opportunities for middle-class American jobs," Wyden said. "I'm proud this bipartisan bill creates what I expect to be unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations, and ensures future trade deals break new ground to promote human rights, improve labor conditions, and safeguard the environment."

The legislation is expected to pass the Senate Finance Committee and land on the Senate floor next week. The House Ways and Means Committee will formally draft its version of the bill next week.

Timing is important. As Reuters noted before the deal was announced on Thursday:

Introducing the bill this week would send a positive signal about the Trans-Pacific Partnership ahead of a planned visit to Washington in late April by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan and other TPP partners have said having fast track—which gives trading partners certainty agreements will not be picked apart—is vital.

But clearing committees doesn't guarantee the bill's success. The Hill reported earlier this week that Democratic support for Fast Track is falling away in the House, and senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have argued vehemently against the legislation. 

Looking forward to what it predicts will be "one of the toughest legislative battles" of Obama's final 19 months in office, the Times reports that even with the reported concessions, "the fight to get the trade promotion bill to the president’s desk will be difficult and emotional, badly dividing the Democratic Party’s labor base and putting Hillary Rodham Clinton in a quandary. Many prominent Democrats have come out against one of the biggest priorities of their president. Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, was notably absent from trade negotiations."

"[TPP] is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded handout to corporations... and would be a giant step backwards in the fight against climate change." —May Boeve, 350.org

Those who oppose Trade Promotion Authority say it would help advance industry-backed trade deals like the TPP, which experts charge would have negative impacts on everything from public health to workers' rights to climate change.

"This bill is a climate disaster, and amounts to nothing more than a taxpayer-funded handout to corporations," 350.org executive director May Boeve said Thursday. "We've seen leaked text showing that TPP would allow fossil fuel companies like Exxon to sue any member country that dares to act on climate, and hold up any law or regulation that hurts their bottom line. That's an irresponsible giveaway that lets Big Oil handcuff our political systems even more, and would be a giant step backwards in the fight against climate change."

Critics like Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said the deal unveiled Thursday is merely a spiffed up version of the "old unacceptable Fast Track process."

Noting that the bill would still make it easier for corporations to offshore American jobs, undermine U.S. wages by forcing Americans to compete with Vietnamese workers making less than 60 cents an hour, and expose consumer and environmental safeguards to attack by foreign corporations in extra-judicial tribunals, Wallach explained further:

Instead of establishing a new "exit ramp," the bill includes the same impossible conditions from past Fast Track bills that make the mechanism to remove an agreement from Fast Track unusable. The bill's only new feature in this respect is a new procedure that would be usable only after an agreement was already signed and entered into and that would require approval by 60 senators to take a pact off Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority "no" vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement. In contrast, the 1988 Fast Track empowered either the House Ways and Means or the Senate Finance Committees to vote by simple majority to remove the pact from Fast Track consideration with no additional floor votes required, and such a disapproval action was authorized before a president could sign and enter into a trade agreement.

Now that the bill has officially been introduced, progressive advocacy groups, and labor organizations opposed to Fast Track and the TPP are gearing up for a full-court press in opposition to the corporate-friendly trade policies.

In addition to a national Stop Fast Track day of action—spearheaded by the AFL-CIO and taking place this Saturday, April 18—groups are calling on constituents to demand their elected officials vote against the legislation.

"Congress shouldn’t throw Americans under the bus by giving up its authority over this unprecedented giveaway to multinational corporations," said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director for CREDO, which has played a key role in the fight against Fast Track and the TPP. "Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself, the deal to grant the White House Trade Promotion Authority was negotiated in secret behind closed doors. It is time for Democrats in Congress to stand up to corporate shills in Washington and do everything in their power to stop this secretive corporate power grab."

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