All Hands On Deck: House Fast Track Vote Expected This Week

Dave Johnson

ALL HANDS ON DECK. This is not a drill. The vote in the House of Representatives on fast track trade authority, preapproving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before the public finds out what is in it, is coming up very soon. It is even possible it could happen later this week. The Senate has already passed fast track; if the House passes this it goes to President Obama and he will sign it. That will make TPP a done deal.

Fast track is a weird procedure, invented by President Richard Nixon, whereby Congress sets aside the normal procedures for considering, debating and voting on a bill – but only for so-called “trade” agreements. Under fast track Congress agrees to rush the agreement through with little debate, agrees not to make any amendments, and not to filibuster it. (How else could they get approval for deals that allow companies to ship jobs and factories out of the country to places where workers and the environment are not protected?)

We don’t know much about the contents of TPP – a secret investor/corporate rights agreement negotiated by corporate representatives with labor, environment and other “stakeholders” kept away from the negotiations – but we do know Nike wants it because it will lower tariffs on the shoes they import from Vietnam. We also know that the lowered tariff will mean New Balance may stop making shoes inside the U.S. We know that it opens up Vietnam, which pays workers less than a dollar an hour, for even more “outsourcing” of American jobs. We know that it lets corporations sue governments in “corporate courts” if they think laws and regulations might hurt their profits. (It even lets tobacco companies sue governments for trying to help citizens quit smoking, because that lowers tobacco company profits.)

Passing fast track will mean that the TPP is most likely a done deal when it comes before Congress, even though it is still secret from the public at the time they vote to fast-track it. It also means that an upcoming “trade” deal with Europe will likely go through, whenever that happens. And on top of those, it means that future “trade” deals that we don’t even know of yet will likely be approved – even if they are set up to gut our own banking regulations.

The problem here is that these deals are put together using a rigged negotiating process. Our trade negotiators tend to come out of giant, multinational corporations – particularly from Wall Street – and tend to return to them. The 600 “advisors” on the TPP are dominated by corporate representatives. Not only does this set up a corporate-favoring (therefore labor-/environmentalist-hating) mindset within the agency, it also creates an understanding that participants should “play ball” and not make waves against corporate interests if they want to obtain a lucrative corporate position after leaving government. The inevitable result is agreements that rig the game in favor of the interests of the giant, multinational corporations and their investors over the interests of the rest of us – and our government.

And then Congress “greases the skids” with the rigged fast track process to get these deals passed outside of the opportunity for the public to stop them.

There is a reason that Wall Street, giant multinational corporations, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Republican Party leadership and all the other anti-worker lobbying representatives of giant corporations and billionaires are for TPP – and all of the labor unions, progressives, Democrats (except a few who hope to be lobbyists later), citizen groups, consumer groups, internet freedom, health groups, LGBT groups, food-safety groups, environmental groups and so many others oppose it.

Put it this way: Do you think giant, multinational corporations want working people everywhere to be paid more or less? Do you think they want to increase environmental protections or weaken them? Do you think they want to increase government’s power to reign them in and protect citizens or weaken it? You get the picture.

We Can Win

It’s not often these days that We the People can beat back the forces of big money – but it can happen. For example, We the People have managed to score major victories on lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender rights. We the People rallied and beat back recent attempts to cut Social Security. We the People have been bypassing Congress and passing minimum wage hikes in cities and states. These are just a few recent examples.

We the People can win if we set our minds to it, and organize and make our voices heard.

People are solidly against more “trade” deals that send jobs out of the country and increase corporate power. A recent Pew poll was reported as showing that people favor trade deals if they create jobs, but the poll also looked at how people see the NAFTA-style trade deals we have. Public Citizen took a look at that poll and reports:

● 46 percent said that free trade agreements “lead to job losses,” while only 17 percent said they “create jobs.”
● 46 percent said that free trade agreements “make the wages of American workers” lower, while only 11 percent said they make wages higher.
● 34 percent said that free trade agreements actually “slow the economy down” and 25 percent said they do “not make a difference” for economic growth, while only 31 percent said they “make the economy grow.”
● Among those who rated their personal financial situation as “poor,” 55 percent said free trade agreements have hurt their family’s finances, while only 27 percent said they have helped their family’s finances.

Other polls show similar sentiments – especially when it comes to fast-tracking these “trade” deals. Even conservatives are opposed to fast track. Take a look at this:

“By more than two to one, voters say they oppose (62 percent) rather than favor passage of fast-track negotiating authority for the TPP deal. Among those with a strong opinion, the ratio climbs to more than three to one (43 percent strongly opposed, just 12 percent strongly favorable).”

“Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8 percent in favor, 87 percent opposed), as do independents (20 percent-66 percent).”

Keep in mind that this widespread opposition is in spite of a virtual media blackout on these issues, particularly on the coming TPP. One of the reasons they are rushing fast track through now (only three days of debate compared to three weeks last time) is because it is starting to get more attention, more and more people are hearing about it, and they know they have to try to pass it soon or not at all.

What To Do

Starting this week people should call and show up at the local offices of their member of Congress. Bring a sign if you show up. Get others to come with you. (Use our click-to-call tool to contact your member of Congress. Or you can click here to find the office of your representative.)

Ask your representative if she or he has read TPP. Get them on record whether they have read it.

● If they haven’t read it, they have no business voting to preapprove it. Let them know you’ll be writing letters to the editor saying this.
● If they won’t tell you if they have read it that is an issue. Let them know you’ll be writing letters to the editor letting people know their representative votes on things they are not informed about.
● If they have read it, they should vote against it.

Then ask them why you can’t see the text of TPP, especially if they are about to vote to preapprove it with fast track? Why is it being kept secret? (Why are the already-completed parts secret?)

Get on Twitter and Facebook and let people know about fast track and TPP. On Twitter use the hashtag #stopfasttrack. (And go check out what is happening with that hashtag.)

Especially, call, call, call and ask friends and family to call members of Congress and let them know that you are paying attention and do not want fast track. Let them know you will remember how they vote.

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