This post originally appeared at the Northwest Labor Press.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced agreement with Republican leaders April 16 over the terms of a “Fast Track” bill introduced in the Senate and House. The bill would make it easier to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a NAFTA-style trade deal that the Obama administration has been negotiating in secret with representatives from 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
In a press statement, Wyden said the bill creates “unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations and ensures future trade deals break new ground to promote human rights, improve labor conditions and safeguard the environment.”
But a line-by-line analysis shows Wyden’s statement to be false. Wyden’s bill is almost identical to a Fast Track bill from the year before. The only differences are that the Wyden bill:
- Adds the word “accountability” to the name of the act;
- Establishes the position of “chief transparency officer” to advise about “transparency”;
- Gives congressional staff “with the proper security clearances,” the right to see (but not take pictures of) negotiating texts;
- Requires the president to publish the agreement online 60 days before formally signing it; and
- Creates a narrow escape hatch to revoke Fast Track consideration: Agreements won’t be subject to the Fast Track rules if the House or Senate vote to declare that the president has failed to notify or consult Congress on trade negotiations—but they can only do that if the House Ways and Means Committee, or the Senate Finance Committee, first do so.
In other respects, the Wyden bill is the same as previous Fast Track bills—Congress has to finish voting on a trade agreement 90 days after the president sends it to them and can’t amend it in any way. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations.” Through Fast Track, Congress abdicates that power, giving it to the president. In theory, the Fast Track bills instruct the president what to bargain for with other nations. In fact, Obama has been negotiating the TPP since he took office in 2009, so any Fast Track provisions telling the president what to bargain for can’t be taken seriously, since they’re coming after the fact.
With Fast Track, what’s really at stake is an agreement, the TPP, written substantially by and for U.S. corporations, which would obligate Pacific Rim countries to expand patent, trademark and copyright monopolies and give foreign investors the right to sue governments for passing laws that reduce profits. That’s a conclusion based on texts leaked to WikiLeaks. Under the Fast Track bill, the final text of the secret agreement won’t be known until the deal is signed and sent to Congress for its rubber stamp.
On April 22, six days after Wyden’s bill was announced, the Senate version, S. 995, passed the Senate Finance Committee 20–6. It was supported by Wyden, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and five other Democrats and all but one Republican. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) tried to amend the bill to require the White House to include enforceable currency manipulation provisions in international trade agreements but that failed 11–15, with Cantwell and four other Democrats joining 10 Republicans in voting against it.
The following day, the House version (H.R. 1890) passed the Ways and Means Committee 25–13, with the support of all 23 Republicans, plus two of the 15 Democrats: Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
The Fast Track bills now go to the full House and Senate for a vote.
The AFL-CIO has mounted a strenuous campaign to oppose Fast Track, and the White House has pulled out all the stops to push it.
The online magazine BuzzFeed reported the White House engaging in “hour-long calls to lawmakers, secret classified briefings on Capitol Hill, bully-pulpit wrangling by President Obama and even a shadowy new progressive-focused group launched by Obama supporters solely to sell the trade deals.”
On April 9, Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, got his first-ever call from the White House, with two aides suggesting that if he and labor continue to fight Fast Track, it would tear the Democratic Party apart.
On April 18, the Oregon AFL-CIO sponsored a huge march through the streets of downtown Portland. Smaller rallies were held the same day in Bend, Salem, Eugene, Medford and Coos Bay.
“The American people—I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, Independent, Working Family Party—poll after poll says, ‘We hate this.’ And for a damn good reason,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “For 25 years, we’ve hated this. We’ve seen the impact on our jobs. We’ve seen the impact on the economy. We’ve seen the impact on our childrens’ future, and it’s wrong. It’s wrong.”
Barbara Dudley, a founder of the Oregon Working Families Party, said Wyden, in his deal with Republicans, touts the inclusion of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for service workers.
“Why is that necessary?” Dudley asked. “Because this trade agreement is going to screw service workers the same way the last ones have screwed all the manufacturing workers. That’s why they’re going to have to extend TAA.”
HOW TO TAKE ACTION: The AFL-CIO wants union members to call their congressional representatives and urge them to oppose Fast Track. Call 1-855-712-8441 to automatically be patched through to your member of Congress. In Oregon, call Sen. Wyden and Reps. Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden. In Washington, call Sens. Patty Murray and Cantwell and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.