By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, www.PopularResistance.org
Above: Stop Fast Track protest on Capitol Hill held on April 16, 2014. All photos by Eleanor Goldfield from Art Killing Apathy.
Yesterday, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a fast track bill that they will be pushing hard to get through the legislative process as quickly as possible. A hearing is planned for Thursday, April 23, in the Senate Finance Committee to mark-up the bill and perhaps vote on it.
Hatch and Wyden spoke in flowery terms about the bill at a hearing on April 16, 2015, but when all the flowers are removed not much has changed from previous versions other than to be weaker in key areas. The bill is a transfer of constitutional responsibility for trade away from Congress and to the president. The statements given in the Senate Finance Committee hearing were misleading at best and so, on that day people working with Popular Resistance decided we needed to show our opposition. We stood up and turned our backs on the committee as US Trade Representative Michael Froman was testifying. We also demonstrated outside of the Dirksen Senate Office building that day to show our opposition to fast track for rigged corporate trade.
One of the fast track supporters’ talking points is that there are nearly 150 negotiating objectives in the fast track bill, which implies that fast track gives Congress a role in setting the direction of agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But, the TPP has been negotiated in secret by the Obama administration since 2009 and is nearly complete, so how are these 150 objectives going to be met? For example, one objective is enforceable environmental protections but a leak of the environmental chapter shows there are no enforcement provisions. Will the US Trade Representative go back and re-negotiate the environmental chapter now? Of course not, and there was not even any question raised about that by Hatch and Wyden when they announced their bill.
At the hearing, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the likely replacement of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as Democratic Party leader, spoke strongly against fast track. He admitted he had once been a free trade advocate but now opposed these agreements because he had seen their impact on jobs and wages. He described the process in the Finance Committee as “unfair” because the bill asks the Congress to tie its hands for a trade agreement they have not seen. The current Democratic Leader, Reid, has been a long-time opponent of fast track and was key to stopping the 2014 push for such a law.
On the House side, Politico reports “there is little indication that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi or Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer will support the legislation.” The Hill did a lot of reporting to make the best guess at the vote count in the House and concluded that as few as 15 Democrats will support the bill (Politico said only 10 Dems are openly committed) and that up to 60 Republicans will oppose the bill. That puts the vote total against fast track at well over the 218 majority needed with 233 members who are opposed. Now that a bill is introduced, it is important for everyone to go to www.StopFastTrack.com and call their elected officials and demand they oppose fast track. We know that supporters will do all that they can to convince more members to support fast track. We must prevent them from succeeding. The coming weeks will decide the outcome of rigged corporate trade.
The reaction to the bill was strong from the massive coalition that opposes these corporate rigged trade agreements.
At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals. For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.
Teamsters President James Hoffa wrote that fast track is “no longer theoretical” noting that “Legislation that would allow agreements like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to slide unscathed through Capitol Hill has been introduced and will soon be considered by the Senate Finance Committee. And the consequences are dangerous for all Americans.” After noting all of the failures of corporate rigged trade agreements he concludes:
If these agreements are so good for America, they should be able to stand on their own. But they can’t. Here’s why: They’re not fair to workers. They let big corporations ship jobs overseas and dump wages and benefits overboard along the way. They lead to lost jobs, shuttered plants and hollowed-out communities. And in return the vast majority of Americans only get unsafe goods and foods that make their families sick.
It’s time the productivity of American workers showed up in their paychecks, and that means no more unfair trade deals. Now Congress needs to ensure that happens.
United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard described the fast track bill as a continuation of “outmoded trade policies that have decimated American manufacturing with more than 60,000 shuttered factories and millions of lost jobs.” He went on to make the point “I don’t know anyone who can name an agreement passed under fast track that has resulted in a net gain of jobs for working Americans.” He pointed out that negotiating objectives are nothing new and in the past they have been ignored. He specifically pointed to currency regulation, an objective in this fast track bill, that the White House says it will not include in the negotiations. At the hearing yesterday, while currency issues were raised, US Trade Rep. Froman said they do not think they should be included in the negotiations. Despite this blatant disregard for a congressional objective, no opposition came from Wyden or Hatch — they will push forward anyway showing the fraudulent nature of the negotiating objectives.
The “Fast Track,” or TPA, legislation introduced today, and in fact, the entire process surrounding its inception, continues the lack of transparency and disdain for U.S. workers and communities that has been the hallmark of the past five years of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
If this Fast Track bill were to be approved, Senators and Representatives would be agreeing to rubber stamp not only the TPP, which has been negotiated in almost total secrecy, but any other trade deal proposed over the next few years. President Obama has had Fast Track authority for the Colombia, Panama and Korea trade deals. This proposed legislation provides Fast Track for the next president.
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica describes the bill as a “blatant” move which represents the interests of “the will of the richest one percent of individuals, big business and their donors, not we the people.” Friends of the Earth went on to specifically criticize Senator Ron Wyden writing:
The Hatch–Wyden Fast Track bill is the same old model of closed door trade promotion legislation. Congress must not give away its constitutional authority and facilitate the ratification of environmentally destructive trade plans like the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. There is no excuse for Senator Wyden, given widespread opposition to the bill within his home state of Oregon, to sell out the environment and workers in this way.
The Sierra Club described the bill as “toxic,” a good word for a bill that will undermine the environment, workers rights, the Internet, quality of food, push privatization of water, undermine healthcare and continue the extreme energy extraction economy. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune wrote:
What you can do!
This is a critical period to Stop Fast Track and we all need to do everything we can to keep the pressure on members of Congress.
Here are some ways to get involved!