The 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.