Deeply disappointing news to share tonight: So-called “fast-track” legislation that would prevent Congress from considering amendments to prior to a future vote on ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is moving forward after the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee voted twenty to six to advance it.
Among the twenty senators who voted in favor were Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Oregon’s Ron Wyden (who is also the committee’s ranking member). Five other Democrats joined with them to help the Republicans advance the bill. One Republican, Richard Burr of North Carolina, sided with the remaining Democrats.
Voting Aye: Democrats Ron Wyden (OR), Maria Cantwell (WA), Bill Nelson (FL), Thomas Carper (DE), Ben Cardin (MD), Michael Bennet (CO), Mark Warner (VA), Republicans Orrin Hatch (UT), Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Crapo (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Mike Enzi (WY), John Cornyn (TX), John Thune (SD), Johnny Isakson (GA), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), Dan Coats (IN), Dean Heller (NV) Tim Scott (SC)
Voting Nay: Democrats Charles Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Robert Menendez (NJ), Sherrod Brown (D‑OH), Robert Casey (PA), Republican Richard Burr (NC)
That wasn’t all. As The Hill reported, Cantwell didn’t just vote for fast-track. She also inexplicably opposed an bipartisan amendment offered by Debbie Stabenow and Rob Portman that would force the Obama administration to put enforceable currency manipulation provisions into trade deals. The White House didn’t like the Stabenow/Portman amendment, of course, but that’s to be expected.
Despite having Ron Wyden’s support, the currency manipulation amendment failed on a vote of fifteen to eleven, thanks to the nay votes of Cantwell and four other Democrats. If Democrats had stuck together, the amendment would have passed.
“I think there is great economic opportunity outside the United States and I support Trade Promotion Authority,” Cantwell said in a late evening press release sent to NPI and other media outlets following the committee’s vote.
The release did not elaborate on Cantwell’s pro-fast-track stance or offer a rationale for her position. Instead, it focused on two amendments to the bill that Cantwell sponsored that the committee voted to adopt. Cantwell says that these are intended to bolster enforcement and make it easier to gather labor statistics.
Watching Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden do the work of the United States Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street in the U.S. Senate is more than unsettling… it’s incredibly disturbing, particularly considering that Cantwell and Wyden have been such pioneering leaders on issues like Internet freedom.
We’re used to thinking of them as the good guys. But today, they sided with big industry’s armies of lobbyists over the people of the Pacific Northwest.
There is plenty of evidence showing that past trade schemes like NAFTA and CAFTA have resulted in the deterioration of our manufacturing sector, a staggering number of lost jobs, and bigger trade deficit (PDF).
And the latest, best analysis of the fast-track, “Trade Promotion Authority” legislation that Obama wants (PDF) shows it’s just as bad as legislation that George W. Bush asked for more than a decade ago and didn’t get.
Perhaps Senator Cantwell hasn’t seen the research… like this fine piece from EPI. Or maybe she has seen it and doesn’t think that it’s credible. Either way, she and Senator Ron Wyden are letting us down on a matter of major importance.
If they continue down this path, they will quickly destroy much of the goodwill and gratitude they have earned through their leadership on issues like Internet freedom and Wall Street accountability. We appreciate Cantwell and Wyden’s leadership on environmental and consumer protection. But we need them to be champions for worker protection, too. We need them to stand with Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown. And regrettably, they’re not. They’re missing in action.
Last night on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked President Barack Obama to respond to several criticisms that have been made of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including by Senator Warren. Obama responded by saying, “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues, but she’s wrong on this.”
Wrong how, Mr. President? “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” is not going to cut it. If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so wonderful and full of goodness, why is it a secret? Why can’t the people of this country read it and see what it says?
Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”
If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.
The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.
For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.
If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.
Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.
Sherrod Brown has been leading this fight, and he points out that TPP isn’t classified military intelligence – it’s a trade agreement among 12 countries that control 40% of the world’s economy. A trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely.
It might even affect the new financial rules we put in place after the 2008 crisis. This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.
Senator Warren’s criticisms are spot on.
Considering that past trade schemes haven’t delivered the benefits that were advertised and promised at the time they were adopted, the last thing Congress should be doing right now is giving up its ability to mark up and critically evaluate a mammoth, unprecedented trade scheme like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Our founders gave us a republic with a system of checks and balances for a reason. They wanted a separation of powers. Presidents almost always ask for — or demand — more power than they should have, regardless of party. This is one of those times where Congress needs to say “Sorry, no!” … not, “Sure, yeah, whatever!”