Warning that passing Fast Track legislation would amount to rubber-stamping corporate trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, progressives are vowing to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes on the compromise bill announced Thursday—and reminding them of how dangerous such trade policies are for the public, workers, and the planet.
"[T]he big deal is that Fast Track sets the stage for new flawed trade deals including the TPP and a deal with the European Union (known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP)," wrote Patrick Woodall, research director and senior policy advocate for Food & Water Watch, in an op-ed published Friday at Common Dreams. "These two mega-trade deals would impose the global trade rules benefiting transnational companies on the majority of the global economy."
Woodall predicted: "Now that the [Fast Track] bill has been introduced expect a fever-pitched campaign by the free-trade lobby to move the bill along."
But despite aggressive campaigning from corporate interests and President Barack Obama's administration, Fast Track approval in the U.S. House and Senate is anything but a done deal.
The open warring among Democrats over fast-track trade legislation, and the party’s broader existential crisis on free trade, grew more pronounced Thursday as senior lawmakers announced a breakthrough on the trade bill. Many Democrats still feel the burn, 20 years later, of lost manufacturing jobs from the North American Free Trade Agreement — pushed through by former President Bill Clinton — and they fear another Democratic president is on the verge of turning his back on working-class Americans by negotiating a trade deal that would send jobs overseas.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), for example, said Thursday: "There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994."
Unfortunately, such concerns are not universal. According to The Hill, a group of 11 House Democrats signaled on Thursday that they will support Fast Track: "The lawmakers—all members of the New Democrat Coalition—said Thursday that they are encouraged by reports that a top Senate Democrat had secured several of their key priorities in newly introduced trade promotion authority legislation."
That top Democrat is Sen. Ron Wyden, of Oregon, who activists had targeted as a potential ally against Fast Track due to his position as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Wyden's decision to support the compromise Fast Track bill—which he claims includes provisions to increase transparency and strengthen human rights and environmental protections—was described by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign as "a betrayal of Oregon’s working families and of democratic policy-making."
73% oppose of Oregon voters oppose Fast Track for TPP. Yet OR Sen. @RonWyden positions as Fast Track cosponsor and champion. Shame on Wyden.
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) April 16, 2015
"What I can tell you, which is good news, is a lot of members are feeling the heat," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading TPP critic, said Wednesday night during a Democracy for America conference call. "Whether we can beat it in the Senate or not, I don’t know. I think we have a better shot frankly in the House where to the best of my knowledge the overwhelming majority of Democrats are against it."
The measure needs 218 votes to pass in the House, which means winning the support of anywhere from 10 to 50 Democrats, depending on how many of the 247 Republicans in the House vote against the trade bill. Estimates of Republican defections—some conservatives oppose handing over so much authority to Obama, others worry that the TPP chips away at national sovereignty—vary widely from two dozen to as many as 60.
In the lead up to a Stop Fast Track day of action planned for Saturday, advocacy groups reiterated their opposition to industry-driven trade policies.
The National Farmers Union called Fast Track "a one way ticket to bigger trade deficits, more lost jobs and more economic devastation to America’s family farmers and ranchers."
NFU president Roger Johnson added: "We favor a trade policy that prioritizes domestic food production and goods supply chains in lieu of policies that put family farmers and ranchers out of business and send some of our best jobs, and the dreams of America’s middle class, overseas."
Both houses of Congress are expected to take up the Fast Track bill next week. In the meantime, grassroots activists are calling on constituents to contact their representatives and urge them to vote No.
On Monday, a wide swath of social justice organizations and organized labor unions will gather for an anti-TPP "Don't Trade Away Our Future!" rally in Washington, D.C.
As Patrick Woodall, of Food & Water Watch, put it: "Only engaged citizens will be able to derail the corporate free-trade juggernaut that is coming."