In what is being heralded as a "brave tactic," Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday temporarily blocked lawmakers from rushing through legislation that would allow the Obama administration to "Fast Track" the controversial and highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Sanders forcibly delayed the Senate Finance Committee from considering Fast Track legislation by using a rarely invoked senate scheduling rule, effectively preventing the panel from looking at the trade bill until at least 4:00 PM. The committee was widely expected to endorse the legislation.
Although not technically a filibuster, Sanders' maneuver is being compared to the delaying tactic and is being met with vows from Fast Track proponents to do whatever it takes to move the legislation forward.
Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter explained Wednesday that the delay, nonetheless, is significant "because Senate Democrats, including Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), have prepared dozens of amendments to the fast-track bill, which will take several hours to address in committee. If the panel can't finish its work Wednesday, or just decides to call it a day early and resume its business tomorrow, Sanders can raise the same objection again, potentially delaying the process for several days."
Sanders said he took this step over concerns that the deal, despite its vast impact, is being rushed through Congress without public debate, or even knowledge of its contents.
"It is absurd that a trade agreement of such enormous consequence has had so little transparency," said Sanders in a press statement released Wednesday. "It is beyond belief that this agreement would let corporations sue over laws to protect public health and the environment."
"This job-killing trade deal has been negotiated in secret. It was drafted with input by special interests and corporate lobbyists but not from the elected representatives of the American people," Sanders continued. "Instead of rubber stamping the agreement, Congress and the public deserve a fair chance to learn what’s in the proposal."
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, told the Huffington Post that Sanders employed "a very brave tactic."
Sanders' move sparked heated response among colleagues, with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the committee, vowing to push the vote through no matter what.
"We’re going to finish this bill today," said Hatch. "I don’t care how much time it takes."
The Obama administration has aggressively pressed for Fast Track authority, which would grant Congress a "yes" or "no" vote on trade deals, but not the ability to make changes. Civil society groups, and some lawmakers in Washington, have vigorously opposed attempts to ram through the deal, which they warn would drastically expand corporate power at the expense of public protections, from public health to human rights to ecological well-being.
Under negotiation since at least 2008, the deal includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These nations together represent 40 percent of the world's GDP, making this the largest trade deal yet.
But despite its vast impact, the TPP negotiations have taken place behind closed doors, and all that is known about the mammoth deal was revealed through leaks.