Push Comes to Shove on Fast Track

Robert Borosage

Push has come to shove on the fast-track trade bill. The vote is slated for Friday.

The unholy alliance of Republican leaders, multinational corporate lobbies and the White House – does not yet have the votes in hand. So the fever of deal making, rule inventing, backroom promises is rising to mind-numbing levels. And the claims of those pushing the treaty grow ever more fanciful. As one legislator said, according to the administration’s trade representative, this treaty will solve everything – put your children to work, cure your hangover, rid you of wrinkles.

Forget the hype, this is the time to call your congressional representative and tell him or her to vote no on fast track. (Our click-to-call-Congress site will connect you.)

Today in the Washington Post, the dour George Will rouses himself to contribute to the foolishness. Will claims the treaty will help lift America’s flagging recovery, ignoring the consensus economic projections that it will have negligible effects on growth. He claims the vote for fast track is a vote for free trade, when in fact it only greases the skids for a deal – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated in secret by corporate lobbies protecting their interests – including higher prices for prescription drugs, a private global corporate legal system that gives foreign investors more rights than domestic companies have and much more.

Will scorns Democrats for wanting “government, rather than markets, to regulate commerce and allocate opportunity,” so urges Republicans to support a treaty that is a government-negotiated regulation of commerce and allocation of opportunity. Only in this case, the government, in essence, delegates its authority to the corporate lobbies and deal-making that produced most of the various chapters.

Will calms Republican fears about surrendering congressional authority to Obama by tying their hands on fast track, saying that Obama will be gone in 19 months. But fast-track authority will last for six years, handing congressional authority to the next president – Hillary? Jeb? – for agreements yet to come.

The contortions needed to pass fast track, despite the concerted efforts of the administration, the Republican leadership and the deep-pocket corporate lobbies, have reached new extremes. Few Democrats will even consider voting for fast track without some assistance for displaced workers (TAA – or trade adjustment assistance). But Republicans won’t vote for helping workers – that’s not who they are. So Republicans wrote TAA as a separate bill, but to skewer Democrats and set up attack ads for 2016, Republicans used cuts in Medicare to “pay for” the assistance to workers. Democrats rebelled.

So now, a so-called “fix” would repeal the Medicare cuts in a separate bill. That still forces Democrats to vote for a bill that has Medicare cuts in it, even as they vote separately to erase them. And this is but one scene in the madcap farce.

Beneath the bloated claims and the backroom deals, the choice on fast track is not complicated. It is designed to speed the passage of the still secret Trans-Pacific Partnership – and future agreements to come. The basic question is whether the U.S. will continue the feckless trade policies that have racked up some $11 trillion in deficits over the last 20 years, devastating American manufacturing, lowering U.S. wages and adding to our extreme inequality.

No country in the history of the world has sustained trade deficits as large as the U.S. has suffered. This year the trade deficit will once more be about $500 billion, or 3 percent of gross domestic product. We are essentially shipping that money abroad rather than using it to generate demand, jobs and growth at home.

When the Levy Economic Institute’s most recent strategic analysis listed the reasons we are experiencing the weakest recovery in the post-World War II era, it began with the “weak performance of net exports,” plus “pervasive fiscal conservatism” (the idiocy of austerity in a time of economic distress), and “high income inequality.” We know already that fast track will ease the passage of more trade deals that will do nothing to redress our trade imbalances and therefore will add to our income inequality.

The president says, “we must write the rules” for the Pacific nations. But we aren’t writing the rules; big corporations and big banks are. It isn’t an accident that the administration’s trade representative comes to us directly from Citibank, with lavish $4 million in “exit payments” in his pocket.

Excessive trade deficits aren’t inevitable. They result because corporations that rig the rules for their own benefit write our trade deals. Global corporations have different interests than Americans. We want good jobs here, a vibrant economy, widely shared prosperity, and a healthy environment. We want more but balanced trade – not unending deficits that weaken our country. Multinational corporations benefit from cheap, disciplined labor any place in the world, lax environmental and health regulation, and guaranteed access to U.S. markets for the goods made by factories that they have moved abroad. They don’t give a good damn that the U.S. is suffering deficits, pressure on wages, and lost factories and jobs.

Leave George Will to his fantasies. This isn’t a vote about reviving growth or free trade. This is a vote for or against a corporate deal that will keep us on the same wrong track we’ve been on. Legislators have to choose between the interests of the country and the special interests of corporate lobbies and financial donors.

Call your legislator now. Ask them to stand up for the country and vote against fast track. Let them know that you will be watching to find out whose side they are on.

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