Defeat of Fast Track Package Highlights Americans’ Concerns About the Trans-Pacific Partnership – Senate-Passed Bill NOT Adopted
The Fast Track package sent over from the Senate was rejected today by the House because two years of effort by a vast corporate coalition, the White House and Republican leaders – and weeks of procedural gimmicks and deals swapped for yes votes –could not assuage Americans’ concerns that more of the same trade policy would kill more jobs and push down wages. Even as President Barack Obama, in a highly unusual move, came to the Capitol at the last moment to appeal directly to Democrats, the House rejected the Senate-passed bill enacting Fast Track, creating an even more uncertain future for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
To try to save face, the Republican congressional leadership called a vote on just the Fast Track portion of the trade bill after the initial staggering defeat of the broader measure. However, legally that vote has no meaning because the rule of House consideration of the Fast Track package required that all aspects of the bill be approved or the Senate-passed bill was deemed rejected by the House. And, the Fast Track portion of the package cannot pass the Senate free-standing without the portion that was voted down in the House. Although these procedural matters may seem arcane, the bottom line is that the legislation enacting Fast Track was not passed by the House despite a massive effort by the White House, Republican congressional leaders and a might corporate coalition.
What became clear in the contentious debate about Fast Track in recent weeks is the growing discontent in Congress about the contents of the TPP. The lack of enforceable currency manipulation standards; the potential exposure of U.S. health and environmental protections to investor-state challenges; concerns about food safety, medicine prices and internet freedom; and insufficient assurances that labor, human rights, and environmental protections will be meaningful or enforceable have all become major flashpoints in the U.S. congressional debate.
After years of deadline-missing negotiations and mounting TPP opposition among prominent economists and thousands of civil society organizations across the political spectrum, the TPP was already hanging by a thread. While the White House and Republican leaders may try to regroup and slice and dice the controversial provisions some other way, the House’s refusal today to adopt the Fast Track legislation sent over from the Senate leaves an uncertain path for both the TPP and Fast Track.
Passing trade bills opposed by a majority of Americans does not get easier with delay because the more time people have to understand what’s at stake, the angrier they get and the more they demand that their congressional representatives represent their will.
The crazy gimmicks employed to try to overcome what polls show is broad opposition to Fast Track actually backfired. Yesterday, the House Republican leadership put most Republican representatives on record in favor of cutting Medicare by $700 million with a vote on a procedural gimmick. Today, it was Democrats’ ire about a gutted version of a program to assist workers who will be hurt by the trade agreements Fast Track would enable that was the proximate cause of the meltdown. That program was included only to try to provide cover for the two dozen Democrats who would even consider supporting Fast Track at all.
Today’s outcome is a testament to the strength and diversity of the remarkable coalition of thousands of organizations that overcame a money-soaked lobbying campaign by multinational corporations and intense arm-twisting by the Republican House leadership and the Obama administration. The movement now demanding a new American trade policy is larger and more diverse than in any preceding trade policy fight. It includes everyone from small business leaders and labor unions to Internet freedom advocates and faith groups to family farmers and environmentalists to consumer advocates and LGBT groups to retirees and civil rights groups to law professors and economists.
Lori Wallach is the Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch