Fast Track Vote Ignores The Public

Dave Johnson

Remember the study that showed that Congress doesn’t take what the public wants into account at all when passing legislation? That’s what happened last week when the Senate passed Fast Track.

Fast Track

“Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority is in front of the Congress. The Senate passed Fast Track last week. The House could vote as soon as early next week.

What is Fast Track? If Congress passes Fast Track, it means they set aside Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and give the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations over to the administration. Congress agrees not to filibuster or amend the agreement — to fix any problems that turn up — and to vote in a hurry, so the public doesn’t have a chance to examine the deals and organize opposition. In other words, it rigs the game so that these deals — negotiated of, by and for the giant corporations — can slide through before anyone can do anything about it.

The Fast Track vote takes place now, before TPP is completed, in order to keep the focus away from what is actually in TPP. It is being rushed through with little debate. It is happening now because the public is largely not paying attention because TPP is not in front of them yet. But if Fast Track passes, it clears the way, and means that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is largely a done deal, no matter what is in it — even though it is still secret from the public and few members of Congress have bothered to read it.

Who Is For And Against?

The “sides” are:

For: The big money. Wall Street, big-company CEOs, lobbying organizations that represent giant multinational corporations (like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable), and “astro turf” front-group organizations that are paid to pretend they represent the public.

Against: The rest of us. All labor unions, Progressives, most Democrats, all progressive-aligned organizations, small businesses and businesses that want to make things in the US, many Tea Party groups and anyone who has lost a job because it was moved out of the country, is afraid they might lose their jobs because it is moved out of the country, or hasn’t gotten a raise because of all the people who have lost their jobs competing for whatever is left.

The Senate went ahead and voted with the big money. No surprise there. Will the House vote with the rest of us?

Congress Ignores The Public

The public (even conservatives) largely opposes the Fast Track process that pushes through “NAFTA-style” trade agreements — by wide margins. (In poll after poll after poll after poll.) Lobbyists have to use very special wording about the benefits of “trade” and “exports” (ignoring imports and job outsourcing) to get a positive result — when TPP isn’t really about trade at all.

In 2014, researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University released the results of a study that examined 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002. They compared what happened in Congress to the preferences of median-income Americans, the top-earning 10 percent, and organized interest groups and industries.

Huffington Post explained what they found, in “U.S. Policies Favor The Wealthy, Interest Groups, Study Shows”:

“Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all,” the researchers write in the article titled, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”

Affluent Americans, however, “have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy,” Gilens and Page write. Organized interest groups also “have a large, positive, highly significant impact upon public policy.”

Again, the needs and wishes of the public “have little or no independent influence on policy at all.

Not Just Trade, Of Course

Congress ignoring the wants and needs of the public and voting with the wealthy, of course, goes far beyond just the corporate/Wall Street agenda to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In Wednesday’s post, “Tracking the Progress of the Progressive Agenda,” Richard Eskow asked why popular policy items like hiring people to fix the country’s infrastructure don’t get consideration in Congress:

If creating these jobs would have such a positive effect on employment, if our infrastructure is in such urgent need of repair (as evidenced by last week’s fatal Amtrak crash), and if the idea is so popular – why, then, would passing a bill like this be considered “problematic”?

Because we have a political system that responds to the desires of an oligarchy, rather than to those of the public at large. That’s not one person’s opinion. It is what a Princeton University study concluded in 2014.

But the pubic does oppose fast track — especially if this pre-approval of TPP gets voted on before we even now what is in TPP.

Meanwhile, with a vote in the House coming in a few days, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton remains silent on the issue. She really ought to let us know whose side she is on.

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