The fight over Fast Track just got real.
U.S. House and Senate leaders announced Thursday afternoon that they have reached a deal on legislation aimed at jamming the Trans Pacific Partnership through Congress.
“Congress shouldn’t throw Americans under the bus by giving up its authority over this unprecedented giveaway to multinational corporations.” —Murshed Zaheed, CREDO
The so-called Fast Track bill (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015), which would make it easier for President Barack Obama’s administration to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them, includes compromise provisions added in order to “win over” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
According to the New York Times:
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In a statement, Wyden—who watchdog groups had targeted as a key vote on Fast Track—defended his support for the bill.
“Opening foreign markets, where most of the world’s consumers reside, is critical to creating new opportunities for middle-class American jobs,” Wyden said. “I’m proud this bipartisan bill creates what I expect to be unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations, and ensures future trade deals break new ground to promote human rights, improve labor conditions, and safeguard the environment.”
The legislation is expected to pass the Senate Finance Committee and land on the Senate floor next week. The House Ways and Means Committee will formally draft its version of the bill next week.
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Timing is important. As Reuters noted before the deal was announced on Thursday:
But clearing committees doesn’t guarantee the bill’s success. The Hill reported earlier this week that Democratic support for Fast Track is falling away in the House, and senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have argued vehemently against the legislation.
Looking forward to what it predicts will be “one of the toughest legislative battles” of Obama’s final 19 months in office, the Times reports that even with the reported concessions, “the fight to get the trade promotion bill to the president’s desk will be difficult and emotional, badly dividing the Democratic Party’s labor base and putting Hillary Rodham Clinton in a quandary. Many prominent Democrats have come out against one of the biggest priorities of their president. Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, was notably absent from trade negotiations.”
“[TPP] is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded handout to corporations… and would be a giant step backwards in the fight against climate change.” —May Boeve, 350.org
Those who oppose Trade Promotion Authority say it would help advance industry-backed trade deals like the TPP, which experts charge would have negative impacts on everything from public health to workers’ rights to climate change.
“This bill is a climate disaster, and amounts to nothing more than a taxpayer-funded handout to corporations,” 350.org executive director May Boeve said Thursday. “We’ve seen leaked text showing that TPP would allow fossil fuel companies like Exxon to sue any member country that dares to act on climate, and hold up any law or regulation that hurts their bottom line. That’s an irresponsible giveaway that lets Big Oil handcuff our political systems even more, and would be a giant step backwards in the fight against climate change.”
Critics like Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the deal unveiled Thursday is merely a spiffed up version of the “old unacceptable Fast Track process.”
Noting that the bill would still make it easier for corporations to offshore American jobs, undermine U.S. wages by forcing Americans to compete with Vietnamese workers making less than 60 cents an hour, and expose consumer and environmental safeguards to attack by foreign corporations in extra-judicial tribunals, Wallach explained further:
Now that the bill has officially been introduced, progressive advocacy groups, and labor organizations opposed to Fast Track and the TPP are gearing up for a full-court press in opposition to the corporate-friendly trade policies.
In addition to a national Stop Fast Track day of action—spearheaded by the AFL-CIO and taking place this Saturday, April 18—groups are calling on constituents to demand their elected officials vote against the legislation.
“Congress shouldn’t throw Americans under the bus by giving up its authority over this unprecedented giveaway to multinational corporations,” said Murshed Zaheed, deputy political director for CREDO, which has played a key role in the fight against Fast Track and the TPP. “Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself, the deal to grant the White House Trade Promotion Authority was negotiated in secret behind closed doors. It is time for Democrats in Congress to stand up to corporate shills in Washington and do everything in their power to stop this secretive corporate power grab.”
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