Unfortunately, Obama’s push to grease the skids for the TPP sells out his longtime supporters among environmental groups and organized labor. Obama finds himself allied with Republicans who have been working to sabotage every progressive initiative that he has come up with heretofore.
The blue-green alliance is understandably suspicious of the TPP negotiations that have been going on behind closed doors with representatives of a dozen Pacific Rim countries and multinational corporations with financial interests there, while labor and environmentalists have had little input.
Opponents of the trade pact were encouraged on May 12 when all the Democrats except one stood against the “fast-track” trade promotion authority. In that early vote, 52 senators — mainly Republicans — voted to take up the bill, short of the 60 needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster.
McConnell revived the bill by promising Democrats votes on some controversial amendments. He also swung Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both of Washington, and several other pro-trade Democrats to vote yes by promising them a vote in June on an amendment reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, whose charter expires on June 30. Obama also got on the phone to cajole reluctant Democrats.
That one-two lobbying combination brought in a 61-38 vote on May 21 to shut down debate and let the Senate move on to pass the Trade Promotion Authority, which grants expedited review of trade agreements for up to six more years, which could empower the next president to negotiate new trade deals in secret.
Thirteen Democrats sided with 48 Republicans to clear the way for the fast-track bill. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) voted against cloture but ended up voting for the bill, which passed 62-37 on May 22. (See the breakdown in Dispatches item 3.)
Sen. Ron Wyden D-Ore.), the main Democratic co-author of fast-track, said the legislation would set a higher standard for trade deals. But he and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) beat back several amendments that could have strengthened those standards.
The closest vote was on an amendment sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to require that future trade agreements include enforceable provisions to stop currency manipulation by foreign partners to give them an advantage over US manufacturers. It failed 48-51, after President Obama reportedly worked the phones to urge Democrats not to support the amendment.
Hatch, Wyden and McConnell also defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 39-60, that would bar corporations from using an arbitration process to settle disputes with foreign governments and multinational corporations. Warren argued the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement process would unfairly shield corporations from state and federal laws.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), also lost a 47-52 vote on his amendment to require prior congressional approval of negotiations to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, noted that under the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill, the trade pact, whose details are being finalized after six years of negotiations, would remain secret from the public until 30 days after its text is locked. The text would be made public 60 days before the formal signing ceremony, but that is irrelevant, because it would be too late to fight for needed changes.
“Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the TPP includes an expanded version of the investment provisions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that incentivize the offshoring of high-wage American jobs and the investor-state dispute settlement system that exposes US policies to attack in foreign tribunals.
“The administration chose to use the weak labor and environmental standards that President George W. Bush included in his last trade deals. It was the 2007 Peru Free Trade Agreement, not the TPP, that was the first US trade agreement to have labor and environmental standards in core text enforceable by the same terms as the commercial provisions. A 2014 Government Accountability Office investigation found these labor and environmental standards now also used for the TPP failed to improve working conditions.
“What has leaked out already is deeply troubling. Many members of Congress who – unlike the public – are allowed to read the TPP are warning us that this is a bad deal.”
Speaking at the Nike headquarters, of all places, President Obama said that those concerned about the TPP rolling back food safety, environmental or financial regulation “are making stuff up” and no trade agreement can do that.
In fact, these rollbacks have happened repeatedly under past pacts. The “sovereignty” provisions found in Section 8 of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill are nothing new and appear in implementing legislation for past US trade agreements under which US food safety and environmental policies have been rolled back already. Examples of rollbacks due to trade deals include:
• Gutting rules about importing only food that “meets or exceeds” US safety standards, so we now import food that does not meet US standards; and
• Rolling back environmental laws and regulations – from Clean Air Act regulations to US labeling of dolphin-safe tuna and more.
Just a few days before the fast-track vote, a tribunal at the World Trade Organization ruled that the US cannot require meat producers to identify the country where their meat comes from.
Republicans also propose to pay for Trade Adjustment Assistance to retrain displaced workers with $700 million in cuts from doctor and hospital reimbursements under Medicare, starting in 2024.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said the agreement “failed to address even one of our six criteria for creating a more democratic and transparent trade negotiating process, will undermine efforts to raise wages and create a fairer economy. If we want a different economy, one that levels the playing field and doesn’t just benefit those already at the top, we need new rules on trade, not the same failed policies with a ‘new and improved’ sticker on them.”
The fast-track bill now faces a tough slog in the House of Representatives, where a sizable group of Republicans and a majority of Democrats are believed to be opposed to the bill, but Obama and the lords of global trade will be working to close that gap. If your Congress member is a Democrat, tell him or her to stand against the fast track bill.
If the TPP ends up being a good agreement (we have no way of knowing because its contents are classified top secret), it should be able to stand up for review under the regular order of business. If your rep is a Republican, tell them they cannot in good conscience support “ObamaTrade” after Republicans have opposed Obama at every turn for the past six years. Refer Republicans to ObamaTrade.com, a website run by conservative populists who are opposed to the trade giveaway. Ask them why they would trust Obama on this issue.
Then, after you have expressed your opinion to your Congress member, go ahead and contact your senators and either congratulate them for opposing fast track or ask them what the hell they were thinking in supporting fast track. Particularly needle the charlatans who are running for president on anti-Obama platforms, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as other prominent Obama bashers in the Senate and the House, about their newfound trust of Obama which fast-track approval implies. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2015
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