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).
This left House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with three unpalatable and highly uncertain legislative paths forward: Have a re-vote to try and pass TAA, try to pass the Senate Fast Track bill that included TAA or pass a stand-alone Fast Track bill and send it back to the Senate. The first two options faced considerable headwinds in the House. Congress had already defeated TAA 302-126, and with only a handful of Democrats supporting Fast Track and most Republicans opposing TAA, there is no guarantee that the House could pass the combined Fast Track-TAA legislation.
Last week, Speaker Boehner punted this legislative meltdown back to the Senate. The House narrowly passed a stand-alone Fast Track bill and asked the Senate to clean up its mess. The House eviscerated the delicate Senate policy balances and made the current version of Fast Track considerably worse. The bill does not include the TAA worker retraining program, but it does include a bunch of policy riders designed to satisfy the most conservative House members and it eliminates a host of improvements that the Senate made when it passed Fast Track in May.
The Senate will take up this considerably worse Fast Track bill tomorrow. First, since it does not include the worker retraining provisions, Senate Democrats that supported a Fast Track that included TAA will now have to take it on faith that the Republican House will ever pass it. Second, the House Republicans mucked about with Fast Track by significantly weakening Senate provisions to ensure we don’t give trade benefits to nations that don’t do enough to fight human trafficking and measures to prevent countries from unfairly manipulating their currency. And, the House added retrograde policy riders to mollify climate deniers and anti-immigrant forces in the Republican Party by prohibiting any trade deal from ever addressing climate or immigration issues. It’s also worth mentioning that all of this monkey-wrenching was conducted in separate legislation that will retroactively modify Fast Track when it is signed, itself a pretty undemocratic process.
Tomorrow, those Democrats that supported Fast Track in May will have to carefully reconsider their votes. Many of these Democrats have already expressed significant reservations towards cleaning up the Fast Track mess the House Republican Leadership created, including the lack of worker retraining, the policy riders and the weakening of key Senate improvements. Hopefully these Senators will listen to their constituents and reject this Fast Track when it is brought to a vote tomorrow. But first, they need to hear from you. Take action today and tell your elected representatives to oppose Fast Track.