Senate Passes Fast Track Bill as Opposition Readies for Showdown
Bill will now move to U.S. House of Representatives, where opposition to Trade Promotion Authority is stronger
At the tail end of a frenzied legislative week, the U.S. Senate quietly voted to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as "Fast Track," a bill that would give President Barack Obama increased power to ram through trade deals without congressional input.
The Senate voted 62-37 to approve a six-year renewal of Fast Track authority. The vote was expected, coming just days after the Senate voted to end debate over the legislation and move forward with the bill, which will now go to the U.S. House for what the Associated Press says will be a "highly unpredictable summer showdown".
About 20 Democrat-backed amendments to the legislation failed along the way, frustrating senators who oppose Fast Track as a threat to the economy and workers' rights. "We're not going to do that," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a lead sponsor of Fast Track, said of the amendments. "Let's face it, we're not going to debate this all over again."
As Common Dreams has previously reported, "Environmental, labor, food safety, public health, and digital rights groups oppose Fast Track on the grounds that it forces Congress to abdicate its policy-making responsibility while greasing the skids for secretly negotiated, corporate-friendly, rights-trampling trade pacts like the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. "
They continued to voice that opposition on Saturday. In a statement following the vote, CREDO Action deputy political director Murshed Zaheed said that supporters of Fast Track and the TPP should expect even greater resistance as those bills move forward.
"The fate of this legislation was always going to be decided in the House of Representatives—and CREDO Action members are ready to fight against it," Zaheed said. "Thanks to the activism of hundreds of thousands of Americans, President Obama and Mitch McConnell found the path to passage of fast track in the Senate was more difficult than they anticipated. They should expect an even more difficult fight in the House of Representatives."
According to The Hill, "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the opposition of liberal Democrats in the upper chamber, has already met Democratic House allies such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Mass.) to build a roadblock."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president as a Democrat, lambasted the Senate's vote on Saturday. "The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers," Sanders said in a statement. "If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas," he continued, referring to Obama's plan to use Fast Track authority to expedite passage of the TPP.
"Bad trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are a major reason for the collapse of the American middle class and the increase in wealth and income inequality in the United States," Sanders said.
The Hill reports that the 14 Democrats who voted in favor of Fast Track are Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Fast Track co-author Ron Wyden (Ore.).