Delay Could Sink Fast Track, But Corporate ‘Arm-Twisting’ Not Over Yet

“I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), above, declared on Monday. (Photo: Center for American Progress/flickr/cc)

“The delay shows that there is not Congressional will to walk the plank for a corporate trade agenda that is reviled by the voters.”

By Deirdre Fulton

While House Republicans and the White House consider their options for reviving failed Fast Track legislation, civil society groups are heralding the delay as a sign of the measure’s imminent defeat.

A trade package including Fast Track failed to pass the House on Friday. Now, according to news reports, Obama administration officials and lawmakers are considering “a list of complicated procedural options that could circumvent House Democratic opposition” in favor of Fast Track. But, as stakeholders on both sides of the issue have acknowledged over the past few days, the setback could spell doom for Fast Track and the corporate-backed trade deals the authority is designed to promote.

To buy more time, House Republicans on Monday night extended—to July 30—the possibility for the chamber to vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) again. Overwhelming opposition to TAA is what derailed the Fast Track trade package in the House last week.

“The corporate trade agenda is stalled in Congress,” said Patrick Woodall, research director and senior policy advocate for Food & Water Watch. “By extending the re-vote period by six weeks, the GOP leadership and the White House gave themselves time to work their parliamentary witchcraft, arm-twisting and gift-giving to cajole Congress into caving into the corporate trade agenda. But the delay shows that there is not Congressional will to walk the plank for a corporate trade agenda that is reviled by the voters. Congress is listening to the public and recognizes the TPP and other trade deals pose genuine risks to consumers, workers and the environment.”

Fast Track, or trade promotion authority, would hand over the power to negotiate international trade deals to President Barack Obama, reducing Congress’s say on such mammoth agreements to an up-or-down vote. Environmental, public health, and digital rights groups say Fast Track would weaken democracy and eliminate congressional oversight of critical details included in the trade agreements, while increasing global corporate influence.

With such criticisms in mind, the AFL-CIO is thanking Democratic lawmakers who stood with organized labor in blocking the Fast Track trade deal in the House last week. “Thank you for standing with working families,” the ads state, featuring photos of the lawmakers. The labor federation, along with climate, public health, and digital rights groups, is also urging members to call their representatives to “ask him or her to hold the line on the next Fast Track vote and say NO.”

Because, as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) put it in a piece published at Medium on Monday, “My colleagues and I who voted against Trade Promotion Authority are not isolationists. We’re not against trade. We understand we live in a global economy. Many members of Congress have proposed models for fair trade deals that can’t even get a debate or a vote in the Congress. But the newest trade proposal before us, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), repeats the harmful practices of past deals. It contains specific threats to working people. I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed.”

According to Ellison, lawmakers should ask themselves the following questions before voting on Fast Track:

-Does the proposed deal help or hurt Americans who work hard every day to make ends meet?

-Does the proposed deal bring back jobs to communities like Baltimore, Flint, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Oakland?

-Does the proposed deal ask our partner nations to stop jailing labor organizers; to stop human trafficking; to raise environmental protections?

Ellison concluded: “If the answer to these questions is no — I think it is a resounding no — then we should vote no.”

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House Democrats Defeat TPP For Now

As FDL Alum, David Dayen wrote at Salon…

The Democrats’ TPP rebellion just drew blood: Everything you need to know about today’s shocking vote

Today’s rebuke for the Obama Administration and his friends on the Republican side of the aisle on their trade agenda restores democratic accountability to the process of governing. What Obama was proposing was a trick, one used repeatedly to advance distasteful policies, by getting each side to vote only on the parts they like. And House progressives responded by saying they wouldn’t play that game anymore. If they can withstand the pressure, not only will trade be derailed, but the era of the split-vote gambit, where opponents help the victors, will be over.

Progressive Democrats took their stand on trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a separate bill to “fast track” trade authority for the President, which the Senate linked together, so that they had to pass concurrently. TAA offers modest job training, income support and health insurance assistance to workers who lose their jobs from trade deals. It’s not very effective, but it sounds good; Democrats who oppose trade deals can say that they at least got some help for workers.

TAA and fast track have passed together ever since the Trade Act of 1974. This is a Washington game where Democrats get to vote for TAA so Republicans don’t have to. Republicans don’t favor TAA because they see it as welfare.

That set up liberal Democrats as the deciding factor on whether Obama would get his fast-track trade authority. The President went to Capitol Hill to tell Democrats to “play it straight” on the vote. But voting for TAA as a sweetener for a policy most Democrats don’t support is the opposite of playing it straight. It’s a stupid game, and progressives finally decided not to play… {more}

From The Nation’s George Zornick…

…Here’s what happened: The House considered three bills Friday. One was a generally noncontroversial customs enforcement bill. Another was the actual fast-track trade-authority legislation. (You can read the case against that bill here.) And the third was a bill providing trade-adjustment assistance to workers who get screwed over by trade deals. Republicans have long detested trade-adjustment assistance as a wasteful big-government program, and Democrats were not happy with the way it was being paid for.

The way House Speaker John Boehner structured the process along with the Senate, all three bills had to pass or else the entire package would not advance. (If you’re a gambler, think of it like a three-item parlay bet.)

Progressive Democrats who oppose fast track feared it would pass with mainly Republican votes alongside a small number of Democrats, but they sensed an opportunity on the must-pass trade-assistance bill—since relatively few Republicans would back the legislation, it would be much easier to kill by withholding Democratic votes. And if trade assistance goes down, so too would fast track.

And that’s exactly what happened. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi took the floor early Friday afternoon and said that explicitly defeating trade assistance “is the only way we will be able to slow down fast track.” When the votes rolled in shortly thereafter, the trade-assistance bill failed with 302 votes against it and only 126 in favor.

It’s worth stressing here how much progressive organizing had to do with this defeat. President Obama personally appeared in Congress at the last minute Friday morning to appeal to Democrats one more time, on the heels of crashing the congressional baseball game the night before. But Pelosi and Democrats remained unswayed, and in her speech, Pelosi instead credited the work of activists holding members to a “hot stove” back home.

But fast track isn’t quite dead yet. Boehner moved on to the fast-track and customs bills anyway, both of which “passed,” though fast track only got two votes more than it needed. The package still won’t advance without trade-adjustment assistance—but Boehner scheduled a revote for Tuesday. {more}

Meanwhile, outside the Capital…

Could Anti-Climate Amendment Torpedo Fast Track?

Last-minute anti-climate effort led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) slammed by green groups and some lawmakers

By Sarah Lazare

Environmental groups have long (warned) of the dangers Fast Track poses to the environment. Now they have solid proof.

With the controversial House Fast Track vote expected to take place Friday, an 11th-hour GOP effort to forbid U.S. trade officials from taking action on climate change has raised the fury of environmental groups and lawmakers, as well as hopes that the unpopular legislation could be torpedoed altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, an amendment was inserted late Tuesday into a customs and trade bill currently being weighed alongside Fast Track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

The language is designed “to ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

But political observers see it as a last-ditch attempt to get reticent Republicans on-board.

As the National Journal reports, Ryan is “working hard to win Republican support for the trade bill. Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the climate-change amendment acts as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”

Critics say, in the midst of a climate crisis, it is outrageous that Ryan would seek to tie a trade representative’s hands, especially given the broad scope of the multiple corporate-friendly deals currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.

“President Obama needs to make it clear that ‘21st century trade deals’ cannot block climate action,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth. “The president should start by telling Republican leadership and the public that the provision in the customs amendment is unacceptable.”

“President Obama cannot credibly claim that trade deals will force other countries to raise their environmental standards if he allows the same deals to secure a pass for the U.S. to keep dumping carbon into the planet’s atmosphere,” Galvão added.

The Fast Track legislation was already opposed by civil society and social movement groups around the U.S. and world—who criticize it as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet.

Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said that this latest move could jeopardize Fast Track altogether: “Forbidding U.S. negotiators from ever addressing climate change in trade deals might might win over a couple of votes on the far right, but it’ll lose many more in the center and on the left because the new language is a disaster for our climate.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) derided the maneuver, declaring, “Now Republicans want to use [Fast Track] to prevent any new climate change standards in our trade deals.”

All eyes are on the vote, expected to take place Friday, with many high-profile politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), remaining mum on how they will vote.

Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch declared in a press statement Thursday, “With Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership now on its way to the House floor, it’s time for our Representatives to stand up to the so-called free trade attacks on common sense protections for public health, the environment and consumers.”

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