Drawing the swift ire of progressives around the country, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday took a step to revive President Barack Obama's faltering corporate trade agenda, passing Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority, in a 218-208 vote.
Twenty-eight Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of Fast Track, which would make it easier for Obama to ram through controversial trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, reducing the role of Congress to an up-or-down vote on such mammoth agreements.
"Thanks to House Republicans and a handful of turncoat Democrats, the army of corporate execs and industry lobbyists who wrote the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership will now have an easier time shoving it down the throats of an American public that's broadly opposed to more NAFTA-style trade deals," Democracy for America chair Jim Dean said after the vote. "While we will continue to work to defeat fast-track for the job-killing TPP in the U.S. Senate, we will never forget which House Democrats stood with American working families against Fast Track and who sold them out."
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The vote comes as a result of procedural maneuvering and arm-twisting by the White House and GOP leaders—machinations that Fast Track opponents were quick to decry.
"Our disappointment with the president is profound," said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica on Thursday. "Sadly, we have come to expect Republicans to sell out the environment for the pursuit of corporate profits. But we expect more regard for environmental protection and respect for working families from President Obama and the Democrats who supported this bill."
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While Thursday's vote is a setback, the fight is far from over. The legislation will now head back to the Senate, where as Public Citizen notes, "its fate remains at best unclear."
In May, the Senate originally passed a version of Fast Track that was linked to Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. But last Friday, the TAA measure was overwhelmingly defeated in the House, in turn derailing Fast Track.
Thursday's vote separated Fast Track from TAA legislation, meaning those who voted in favor supported a bill without protections for workers. It is unknown whether Senate Democrats will support a stand-alone Fast Track bill.
The Hill reports on the wheeling-and-dealing currently happening on Capitol Hill:
Obama spoke with a group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday at the White House, and talks continued in the Senate on Thursday on a way to give the president trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track.
One possible mechanism for giving assurances to Senate Democrats would see the Senate vote first to pass a trade preferences bill, this time with the TAA program attached. It would then be sent to the House for a vote before the Senate considers fast-track.
This planned move angered members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who asked Senate leaders not to use the trade measure, which would provide preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries, as bargaining chip to pass fast-track.
"The legislation that barely squeaked through the House today faces a much more uncertain future in the Senate," said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. "Today’s narrow vote to approve Fast Track in the House is an ominous harbinger of the fate of Fast Track in the Senate, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the electoral prospects for Fast Track supporters."
Echoing the warning of others, Hauter added: "Voters will remember all this and hold members of Congress accountable for siding with transnational corporations rather than their constituents."
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