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Blog Posts: Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

June 23rd, 2015

Free-Trade Senate Democrats Provide Narrow Margin to Pass Fast Track

By Wenonah Hauter

1504_FBSq_NoFastTrack-C1Today, the Senate cleared a key procedural hurdle on a degraded version of the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority by the narrowest margin in the legislative mechanism’s history, 60-37. The procedural measure required 60 votes to pass. A smaller handful of Democrats joined with Senate Republicans to pass Fast Track over the will of the American people, who have been clamoring to halt the rush to rubber stamp trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Two Senators switched their votes from yes to no, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The 13 corporate trade backers included: Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and, the co-sponsor, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). Senators Bennet, Murray and Wyden are all up for re-election in 2016, and voters will remember this Fast Track betrayal when they go to the polls.

Last month, the Senate passed a different version of Fast Track, but House Republicans eviscerated the delicate Senate policy balances, making the version the Senate passed today considerably worse. Today’s legislation does not include the worker-retraining program that many said was essential to securing their vote. Democrats that supported Fast Track today took a leap of faith that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can actually pass the worker retraining measures. The Senate should have forced the House to act first on the worker assistance program before walking the plank on Fast Track.

Today’s bill also weakened the Senate’s earlier provisions addressing human trafficking and currency manipulation and includes new House language that prohibits trade deals from ever addressing climate change. Corporate interests are being put on a pedestal, while the health and safety of the American people and our environment are being swept under the rug. Tomorrow, the Senate will likely vote to pass Fast Track, which only requires a simple 51-vote majority, far fewer votes than were needed today.

Fast Track will accelerate congressional consideration of the as-yet-unseen Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that will undermine key consumer, public health and environmental protections. The Senate Democrats that voted for Fast Track today did so in part because of the promise that the TPP will be “the most progressive trade deal in history” according to Senator Wyden. This is a pathetically low bar, given how bad all the prior trade deals have been.

The Senate passed Fast Track on the narrowest margin in its history today because of the stalwart nationwide activism and advocacy. Food & Water Watch will continue to push for trade deals that put workers, the environment and commonsense consumer protections ahead of Big Business. We will not stand for trade deals like the TPP that undermine our food safety standards, expand fracking and privatize our municipal water systems.

June 22nd, 2015

Fast Track/TPP Update: House Punts Fast Track Problems to Senate

By Patrick Woodall BlogThumb_WoodallPatrick

It has been a chaotic and demoralizing few weeks for proponents of the corporate trade agenda. There is still no promising legislative path to victory, largely because of the outstanding public mobilization launched against the flawed trade policy that Republican leadership, big business and the White House are trying to force a skeptical Congress to accept.

Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly defeated the Fast Track legislative package designed to rubber stamp the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The failure can largely be laid at the feet of the House Republican leadership, which split the Senate bill into two parts, the Fast Track portion and a worker-retraining program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) designed to help workers that lose their jobs because of trade deals like the TPP. The Republicans supported Fast Track but abandoned the GOP leadership on TAA (along with most Democrats that opposed Fast Track). Read the full article…

June 15th, 2015

Fast Track/TPP Update: Last Week’s Wins, This Week’s Shenanigans

By Patrick Woodall and Mitch Jones

*Updated on June 16

1504_FBSq_NoFastTrack-C1Last Friday, the national movement to stop Fast Track for flawed trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) scored a huge victory when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected part of the Senate’s Fast Track legislation. The lopsided defeat prevented the measure from heading for a presidential signature. For the moment, this has stalled the corporate-backed legislation being pushed by both Republicans and the White House to cram Fast Track through the Congress over broad-based public opposition.

Score one for the good guys. But the corporate lobbyists crawling all over Capitol Hill are not easily thwarted. They will try, try again despite last week’s scalding loss. The first chance will likely be tomorrow (more below), but to understand that, you sort of need to see how the Fast Track bill worked its way through the Congress.

The Anatomy Of The Fast Track Bill

The Senate Fast Track legislation included a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that helps workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals. (The existence of this program pretty much demonstrates that Congress knows these trade deals are job killers.) But in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) split the Senate bill in half: the Fast Track part and the TAA part. House Republicans generally oppose the worker assistance program (because it is taxpayer-funded welfare that encourages “takers,” in Mitt Romney’s parlance) and the Democrats have generally been fierce Fast Track opponents.

Speaker Boehner figured he could pass the two parts of Fast Track (Democrats would vote for worker assistance and Republicans would vote for Fast Track) and then stitch them back together and then send the bill to President Obama. The House and Senate must pass identical versions of legislation before the President can sign it into law. Usually House and Senate differences are patched up in a long conference committee process, but since Fast Track is politically unpalatable, they want to just pass the same bill once in both bodies without the messy conference process.

But the American people derailed that on Friday. The House soundly defeated the worker assistance portion of the Senate legislation and narrowly passed the Fast Track portion. Now the bill cannot go to the President.

Tomorrow: Another Vote To Revive Fast Track

After Fast Track was defeated in the House on Friday, Speaker Boehner immediately called for a re-vote on the worker assistance portion to try and save his Fast Track bill and that vote has to happen by the end of the day tomorrow (or they could vote to have a revote later in the week).

So, tomorrow there will be another vote on the worker assistance provisions to try and resuscitate Fast Track. Congress should continue to stay strong and block this attempt to revive it.

Other Ways To Revive Fast Track

If this vote fails, what’s next? The Fast Track zombie could be brought back with legislative shenanigans, but these likely face steeper legislative odds. The House could try to pass the exact Senate Fast Track bill, including the worker assistance program, which will face stiff Republican opposition. Or, the House could send its own Fast Track legislation without the worker assistance measure back to the Senate, and ask the Senate to pass just Fast Track, where it would face a new vote and dubious prospects.

While Friday’s vote was a real victory, we must remain vigilant against Fast Track supporters’ efforts to pass a bill. Probably their finest legislative sorcerers are ginning up even more surprising parliamentary hijinks. Stay tuned.

*Breaking Update, June 16: Last night the Republican leadership in the House realized they could not win a re-vote on the worker protection provisions and decided to extend the time they could reconsider this measure until the end of July. An extension was always one of the options, but by extending the re-vote period by six weeks, the GOP leadership and the White House now have time to cajole Congress into caving into the corporate trade agenda. 

But the delay shows that people power is working. Congress is listening to the public and recognizes the TPP and other trade deals pose genuine risks to consumers, workers and the environment. The grassroots fair trade movement will continue to passionately work to insist that Congress to stop these deeply flawed trade deals. Keep up the great work and stay tuned.

June 11th, 2015

Fast Track/TPP UPDATE: House Vote Tomorrow

IMG_0211By Patrick Woodall

Yesterday, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives announced that the vote to Fast Track the Trans-Pacific Partnership would take place on Friday, June 12. The Fast Track vote is expected to be extremely close and it remains uncertain and fluid even a day before the votes are cast. This week groups across the political spectrum announced they not only were opposed to Fast Track but that they would include the vote in their annual scorecards of the Congress. Both the environmental League of Conservation Voters and the conservative Heritage Action opposed Fast Track and announced the vote would be included in their congressional ratings.

The Republican leadership has established a complex parliamentary gambit to pass the trade legislation that may backfire. The Senate bill combined Fast Track and the reauthorization of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, designed to help workers that lose their jobs because of trade deals. The House will split these into two votes and fund the TAA with severe and unpopular cuts to the Medicare program. Then the Republicans will “fix” the Medicare cuts in a different trade bill first, but Democrats would ultimately be asked to vote for the Medicare cuts, a vote that would assuredly make it into Republican attack ads next election cycle.

The last ditch push for Fast Track has put intense pressure on the few remaining “undecided” members of Congress. The Republican Leadership, President Obama and the Big Business lobby are pulling out all the stops to pass Fast Track. But a broad-based coalition has been mobilized to ensure that Congress does the will of the American people and votes against Fast Track. On Wednesday, Food & Water Watch joined more than a dozen members of Congress and a host of consumer, labor, women’s, environmental, seniors and other groups in a press conference demonstrating the broad based opposition to Fast Track.

The vote remains too close to call. The Republican leadership seems to be trying to rush Fast Track to the floor even though they are unsure of the outcome to try and stampede skeptical Republicans into supporting Fast Track. But it will be a down-to-the-wire, razor-thin vote that will probably happen late at night. Congress has recently taken a lot of late night votes, including repealing country of origin meat labeling at 10 PM last Wednesday night. The Congress has become a parliament of vampires.

Now is the time to contact your Member of Congress and tell them to vote NO on Fast Tracking the secret TPP.

Stay tuned…

 

June 2nd, 2015

Progressive Trade Deal? Show Us the Text of the TPP!

The Super Secretive TPP and the Corporate Cabal Writing the Deal

By Patrick Woodall and Elizabeth Schuster

BlogThumb_AFLTPPbannerBefore the Senate left on its Memorial Day “recess,” it barely managed to pass Fast Track trade authority designed to essentially rubber-stamp the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That the legislation limped across the finish line of a pro-trade Senate demonstrates the controversial and politically charged nature of Fast Track. The Obama administration has kept the TPP negotiations and the text largely secret — except from the corporate advisors that have been inserting special interest mischief into the TPP trade deal.

The President contends the TPP is the “most progressive trade deal in history,” but if the terms of the deal are good enough to draw support from progressive America, why won’t the President release the text of the agreement?

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps surprisingly, President George W. Bush released the draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas to the public, and his team’s rationale should be illuminating for the Obama administration. According to then U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, they released the FTAA text “to make international trade and its economic and social benefits more understandable to the public.”

But the TPP has been shrouded in so much secrecy that even Members of Congress have had difficulty accessing the TPP negotiating texts. Up until this year, Members of Congress had to request access to the text that was secured in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). In March, USTR set up a room in the Capitol where Members of Congress could visit the text without making an appointment.

Not everyone took advantage of the convenience. Even the Senators voting for Fast Track were unsure what is in the agreement. Fast Track sponsor and TPP proponent Senator Orrin Hatch admitted that he does not “know fully what’s in TPP myself.” Read the full article…

May 26th, 2015

Fast Track Update: Senate Bill Limps Across Finish Line and on to the House

By Patrick Woodall

Fast Track, LaborThe Senate ultimately passed Fast Track after a surprisingly contentious and difficult week of trade debate late last Friday night. The big business-Republican leadership-Obama administration alliance had hoped to generate momentum for Fast Track by scoring a swift and easy victory in the Senate.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a “robust” amendment process, debate over amendments was cut off and only a few amendments were even considered. The Senate defeated important amendments to increase funding for assistance to workers who lost their jobs because of trade (offered by Senator Brown, D-Ohio), to prevent other countries from manipulating their currency and artificially increasing their exports (Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio) and to prevent the corporate lawsuits against consumer and environmental protections (Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts).

But the Fast Track juggernaut fizzled in the Senate as stalwart proponents of a fairer global trade system highlighted the flaws for workers, the environment and consumers in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track limped across the Senate finish line after bitter debate between staunch opposition and shameless apologists for the corporate trade agenda.

Ultimately Fast Track passed 62-37, with fourteen Democratic Senators voting yes (Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) joined the bakers dozen corporate trade backers that joined the Republican leadership to begin the debate) and five Republican Senators voting against Fast Track with the majority of Democrats (Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama)).

It was never in doubt that Fast Track would pass the Senate. The Fast Track proponents hoped an easy victory in the Senate would build a sense of inevitability as the measure moved to the House of Representatives. Instead, Fast Track garnered fewer votes than 2002 or 1991 and the anemic victory further deflated the hoped for momentum. In June, the legislation heads to the House where the Senate legislative hiccups will run headlong into stiff and bipartisan opposition that will derail Fast Track.

But only grassroots pressure can ensure our congressional representatives stand up to the pressure from corporate lobbyists and Washington insiders and vote no on Fast Track.

Contact your Representative right now and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!

 

 

 

May 18th, 2015

UPDATE: Senate Begins Trade Debate

BlogThumb_WoodallPatrickBy Patrick Woodall

Yesterday, the Senate voted 65-33 to begin debating Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority, a few days after Senate Democrats prevented Republican leadership from bringing up the controversial trade legislation. Thirteen Democrats joined the Republicans in voting to start consideration of the Fast Track legislation that will be used to accelerate the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. No Republicans voted against it.

The bakers dozen corporate trade backers included: Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and, the co-sponsor, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

This vote was never really in doubt; the legislative setback earlier in the week sent a strong message that the corporate-Republican-White House trade juggernaut could not even ram Fast Track through the pro-trade Senate. Now the Senate will debate the bill and even consider some amendments, and that process will take more than a few days. Ultimately, next week or the week afterwards, the Senate will pass Fast Track. Then the legislation moves on to the House, where the considerable public opposition to the corporate trade agenda can derail Fast Track once and for all.

Contact your Representatives and Senators right now and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!

May 13th, 2015

Corporate-Republican-Obama Trade Alliance Fails to Clear First Legislative Hurdle

BlogThumb_WoodallPatrickBy Patrick Woodall

Yesterday, Senate Democrats gave a stinging rebuke to White House efforts to push its corporate trade agenda. The Senate Republicans refused to offer a comprehensive package of trade measures and nearly all the Democrats voted to prevent the Senate from even debating the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority bill that will be used to cram the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.

This was supposed to be the easy legislative lift because the Senate is generally more supportive of the corporate free trade agenda than the House of Representatives. The President and Senate Republicans, along with their army of corporate lobbyists, hoped to swiftly pass Fast Track in the Senate to create the illusion of legislative momentum and inevitability. Seamless passage in the Senate would be a Fast Track Jedi mind trick that would encourage the House to follow suit and pass Fast Track.

Fortunately, the corporate-trade proponents ran headlong into broad-based public opposition to their trade agenda, helped along by some suboptimal political maneuvering. The Republican leadership refused to include some bipartisan trade enforcement measures and this strong-arm tactic turned even pro-trade Democrats against the White House’s trade priorities. And President Obama did not help himself by demeaning thoughtful progressive Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren that are legitimately skeptical of trade deals that benefit big business but damage workers, consumer protections and the environment.

So, yesterday’s vote took the wind out of the sails of the Fast Track proponents and prevented them from celebrating illusory momentum. But they will be back to take another run at the Senate. Last night, President Obama huddled with the pro-trade Senate Democrats while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) started talking about how to move forwards on Fast Track. The effort to force Fast Track through the Congress over the will of the American people won’t be as easy as they had hoped.

Even with yesterday’s setback, they won’t stop trying, Fast Track will return soon to the Senate. But the real battle remains in the House where we need keep up the pressure to beat back Fast Track.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

April 24th, 2015

TPP Update: Fast Track Not on Track Despite Proponents’ Bluster

By Patrick Woodall

Patrick_WoodallThis week, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee approved Fast Track trade authority, designed to accelerate Congressional consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But this is merely what the politics of Fast Track looks like on the surface. The dueling committee hearings were designed to give a false sense of momentum and inevitability to the Fast Track fight, but passage was practically guaranteed in these two committees largely stacked with corporate free trade apologists.

Just below the surface, underneath the spin and the lobbying, this week’s committee action shows the broad-based and passionate opposition to Fast Track. The House Ways and Means passed Fast Track, but it did so on an almost entirely party-line vote, with only two Democrats joining the Republicans (Reps. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon and Ron Kind from Wisconsin). The rest of the House Democrats voted no, and this solid opposition to Fast Track in the pro-trade committee suggests that Fast Track does not have an easy road forwards in the House. Republicans even refused to allow a vote on the Democratic trade authority alternative bill (offered by the dean of Democratic trade policy, Rep. Sander Levin). Stalwart critics of corporate-driven free trade like Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) put up a spirited attack on the Senate side, foreshadowing contentious debates to come.

Now, Fast Track proponents want to bring the bill to the full House and Senate and pretend that the Committee passage gives the controversial legislation momentum. Don’t believe the pro-corporate trade hype; there is widespread, bipartisan opposition to Fast Track in the Congress and right now is a great opportunity for engaged citizens to give our Representatives the backbone to stand up for working families and the environment.

The Fast Track hucksters hope to bring the bill to the floor in early May, so RIGHT NOW is the time to contact your Representatives and Senators today and urge them to oppose Fast Track (TPA-2015).

Only people power can defeat the corporate free-trade agenda. And, stay tuned; we will keep you up on the trade shenanigans in Washington.

April 16th, 2015

Same Old Hatch-et Job on Trade Agenda on Fast Track

By Patrick Woodall

DSC_2957

Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced their Fast Track trade promotion legislation (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015) to a flurry of adulation that this bill signals momentum on the Big Business-Republican leadership-Obama trade agenda. The free trade fanfare cannot overcome the broad-based public opposition to fast-tracking trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Far from an exciting new trade initiative, this is pretty much the exact same retrograde legislation that Hatch introduced last year. Fast Track is a parliamentary mechanism that prevents Congress from providing oversight to presidential trade negotiators and relegates the Congress to rubber stamp trade deals like the TPP on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

The Hatch-Ryan Fast Track (they like to call it “trade promotion authority”) not only sets the rules for how Congress votes on trade deals but the Fast Track fine print prioritizes business interests ahead of consumer protections, food safety rules, public health safeguards and the environment.  Read the full article…

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