*Updated on June 16
Last 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.