A majority in the Senate today took sides against working families and with Wall Street and the multinationals, voting 60-37 to grant the executive branch fast-track trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and future trade deals.
“This is a day of celebration in the corporate suites to be sure,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on the floor immediately after the vote, “because they have another corporate-sponsored trade agreement that will mean more money in some investors’ pockets, that will mean more plant closings in Ohio and Arizona and Delaware and Rhode Island and West Virginia and Maine and all over this country.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded by noting that the fast-track legislation “was supported by virtually every major corporation in the country” while it was opposed by “every union in this country working for the best interests of working families, by almost every environmental group and many religious groups.
“In my view, this trade agreement will continue the policies of NAFTA, CAFTA (the North American and Central American free trade agreements), permanent normal trade relations with China, agreements that have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs,” Sanders said.
The fast-track legislation, which was narrowly passed by the House last week and now goes to President Obama’s desk for his signature, was passed with the support of these Senate Democrats: Michael Bennet (D-Colo), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
One of the Democrats who voted against fast-track gave an impassioned explanation of his vote afterward.
“I’ve said this –if I can’t explain it back home, I can’t vote for it,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) “This is one, Mr. President, I could not explain back home. I could not make the people feel comfortable this was going to improve the quality of life and opportunities for them and their families.”
Manchin explained that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lower trade barriers with countries such as Vietnam, where workers make as little as 50 cents an hour and “are not going to be as tough as we are in human rights [and] on environmental quality.”
In this debate, there were Orwellian big lies on both sides of the aisle.
Wyden argued that the trade deal represented a different frame from the NAFTA deal of the 1990s. That is in no sense true: the template that makes worker needs subordinate to interests of corporate and financial interests is essentially the same, the process of having corporate lobbyists dominate the negotiations is the same, and the people serving as trade representative come from and represent the same set of interests (corporate lawyer Mickey Kantor was the trade representative who negotiated NAFTA; former Citigroup executive Michael Froman is the trade representative leading the TPP talks).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other Republicans argued that the fast-track deal gives the United States a voice in international trade. How can that be, when in fact fast-track authorizes a process that gives away congressional power? Fast track explicitly says that Congress can only vote up or down, with no amendments and limited debate, on a trade agreement negotiated by the executive branch. The reality is that the process assures passage of a trade deal that is still being negotiated in secret and which virtually no lawmakers have seen.
Democratic votes in favor of fast track were secured with a promise of a vote later this week on trade adjustment assistance, a palliative at best. While that will help some workers who will lose their jobs one the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes into force, it will not help workers who lose wages and bargaining power when corporations threaten to move overseas, and it doesn’t help the workers hit by the ripple effects of plant closings and outsourcing. Even the workers who do get the aid more often than not don’t get back the wages and job security they lost in the first place because of unfair trade.
Robert Borosage, codirector of the Campaign for America’s Future, said that today’s vote “is a vote to continue the ruinous trade policies of the last decades that have racked up 11 trillion in trade deficits, shuttered tens of thousands of factories, and had direct and dramatic effect on undermining the middle class, and lowering wages and security for working people. Those who voted for it voted for more of the same. And they did so to serve the interests of special interests, not the common good; of contributors, not voters.”
Our allies at National People’s Action released a statement after the vote that perhaps captures best how to respond to this vote. “Coming out of this vote,” said executive director George Goehl, “we double our resolve to build an independent political movement to replace Wall Street Democrats” – and we would add corporate and anti-worker Republicans – “with politicians who put everyday people before corporate profits.”