With Congress "dangerously close" to ramming through trade promotion authority, or Fast Track, by mid-April—in turn smoothing the way for passage of corporate-friendly trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership—lawmakers and activists are scrambling to sway key figures in the debate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly said last week that he wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill "very quickly after we come back" from the Easter recess on April 13.
Committee chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been leading the effort to gather legislative support for Fast Track, suggested he was coming close to an agreement with the committee's ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Wyden is seen as a crucial player in Fast Track negotiations, with the New York Times suggesting in early March that the fate of President Barack Obama's trade agenda "appears to rest on the narrow, somewhat wobbly shoulders of Mr. Wyden, a position acknowledged by both parties and the White House with some trepidation."
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) pointed to two upcoming events—a visit to Washington, D.C., in late April by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and a ministerial meeting of the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership countries in May—as reasons to push full steam ahead with Fast Track.
"We've got exterior deadlines that I think we need to be mindful of," Ryan told reporters last week.
As Agri-Pulse reports:
Abe is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress, and it would be awkward for lawmakers if the TPA talks are stalled. Ryan brought up the Abe visit in discussing the TPA timeline with reporters, but he stopped short of promising to have a bill ready by then.
Aware that the window is swiftly closing, opponents continue to mobilize against the Fast Track authority that they fear would allow pro-industry trade deals like the TPP to sail through Congress without amendments.
According to The Hill, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) met last week with House Democrats "to discuss the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, one of the most controversial issues in two trade deals that the Obama administration is negotiating."
As Common Dreams reported Thursday, ISDS was at the center of last week's WikiLeaks revelations, which showed that if the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership goes through as written, it will dramatically expand the power of corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge—and supersede—domestic laws protecting consumers, the environment, and public health.
"The meeting with Warren underscores the deep rift between the Democratic base and the administration on trade and highlights Warren's growing influence in the House among progressive members," writes The Hill journalist Kevin Cirilli.
One of those members, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), penned an op-ed published Monday in The Hill. In it, Sanchez declared: "Assessing what we know of the massive TPP only affirms what we’ve learned the hard way through past broken promises on trade pacts—it's a bad deal for American workers."
Of the debate over trade promotion authority, she continued:
Congress should not take, or cede, their responsibility lightly. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is too secretive and potentially too damaging to be rushed through Congress via "fast track" authority. Based on the past two decades of broken trade promises and "trust me" assurances from past presidents, our country can no longer take that chance.
Meanwhile, the internet activism group Fight for the Future on Monday parked a giant video screen near Capitol Hill highlighting Wyden's role in the Fast Track debate, calling on the senator to stand up for the internet protections and transparency by opposing "anti-democratic and outdated Fast Track legislation."
And a more local campaign is advancing in Seattle, where the city council will vote Monday night on a resolution expressing concern about the TPP and opposing Fast Track authority.
"Seattle's deep-rooted values in democracy and environmental sustainability, and its recognition of the urgent need to act on climate change, are inconsistent with Fast Tracking a massive trade agreement like the TPP," said Selden Prentice of 350 Seattle, one of more than 50 groups supporting the resolution. "We ask that the Seattle City Council stand behind its citizens and not behind the giant multinational corporations who negotiated this treaty outside of the public view."