Down to the Wire on Fast Track, Groups Call on Lawmakers: 'Don't Cave'

"The upcoming House vote is the result of President Obama fully utilizing the bully pulpit of the presidency to get Fast Track to the finish line," says Friends of the Earth. (Photo: AMG photography/flickr)

Down to the Wire on Fast Track, Groups Call on Lawmakers: 'Don't Cave'

Labor leader demands that lawmakers 'stand up for the working people who voted them into office'

A cliffhanger vote is expected on Friday as the U.S. House of Representatives takes up Fast Track, or trade promotion authority, which would cut off lawmakers' ability to amend or filibuster corporate-friendly trade agreements, reducing the role of Congress to an up-or-down vote.

Civil society and social movement groups from around the U.S. and world criticize Fast Track as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet. In April, some 2,000 such groups described Fast Track as "an abrogation of not only Congress' constitutional authority, but of its responsibility to the American people."

Leading up to the Fast Track vote, labor, environmental, public health, and social justice organizations warned lawmakers that votes in favor of Fast Track could be politically dangerous.

Consider, for example, this email from Democracy for America chair Jim Dean to members: "Ahead of today's votes we wanted to be very clear to Democratic members of Congress: If you vote for either Medicare-cutting Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation or Fast Track Authority for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, we will not lift a finger or raise a penny to protect you when you're attacked in 2016, we will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot, and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat."

And in a jointly penned op-ed published Friday in The Hill, executive director May Boeve and Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ president Hector Figueroa slammed the "massive boondoggle of a trade deal" known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Passage of that secretly negotiated trade pact between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries would be facilitated by Fast Track approval.

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"You'd be hard-pressed to find any time in history when that kind of opaque, secretive process has ever helped anyone besides the uber-wealthy--and this time's no exception," Boeve and Figueroa wrote.

"From what we've seen of the TPP," they continued, "we're against it, labor unions and environmentalists alike, because it would mean disaster for the issues that both of our movements care about. It's a giveaway to corporations that tilts the playing field against workers even more, razing basic labor rights. The deal would also worsen climate change, full stop, because TPP makes it easier for massive fossil fuel corporations to pull climate-destroying carbon pollution out of the ground."

According to news reports, last-minute negotiations are centered on a bill granting aid to workers displaced by trade, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which is linked to the Fast Track legislation.

As it stands, the House is scheduled to vote Friday on both Fast Track and TAA. If the TAA bill is defeated, however, there won't even be a vote on Fast Track--which, according toThe Hill, "has created an incentive for Democrats opposed to Fast Track to vote against TAA, in the hopes it will drag the entire package down."

As Politicoreports, such 11-hour uncertainty has President Barack Obama in the middle of a "frantic campaign" to convince Democrats to back his trade agenda.

In a statement issued Friday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka warned lawmakers not to "cave to the corporate interests that have far too much influence on the American economy."

Calling on legislators to "stand up for the working people who voted them into office," Trumka added: "When working people send Members to Congress it is their hope that they will honor that trust and act in their best interests. That means supporting fair wages, safe working conditions and a real opportunity to compete in the global economy. But passage of [Fast Track] would do the opposite. It would lead to another bad trade deal that will cost American jobs. Deals like this are why voters are frustrated and think that Washington is broken.

"But we can do better than this," Trumka concluded. "By defeating [Fast Track] Congress can send a message that our government belongs not to the highest corporate bidders but to the working people who make our country run."

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