Hey Sen. McConnell: Don’t Fast Track the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President January 20, 2015

With fast track, Congress shirks its duty to subject trade deals to lengthy scrutiny, public hearings and amendment.

Instead of the plod­ding tur­tle he’s nor­mal­ly sat­i­rized as, Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell is all cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof about Trade Pro­mo­tion Author­i­ty, bet­ter known as fast track.”

He said as Con­gress con­vened this month that he wants to fast track fast track. He intends to git er done so fast no one notices that with it, Repub­li­cans will pro­vide, as McConnell put it, an enor­mous grant of pow­er … to a Demo­c­ra­t­ic President.”

Fast track is noth­ing more than Con­gress pulling a fast one on the Amer­i­can peo­ple. It’s a plan for law­mak­ers to abdi­cate their Con­sti­tu­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to reg­u­late inter­na­tion­al trade. With fast track, Con­gress shirks its duty to sub­ject trade deals to lengthy line-by-line scruti­ny, ful­some pub­lic hear­ings and amendment.

While grat­i­fy­ing Wall Street and multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, past fast-tracked trade deals have bat­tered Amer­i­can work­ers as fac­to­ries fled off shore, wages stag­nat­ed and lay­offs mul­ti­plied. Fast track is an out­mod­ed strat­e­gy for indo­lent politi­cians. Work­ers in the 21st cen­tu­ry deserve in-depth delib­er­a­tion over trade pro­pos­als to ensure jobs, the envi­ron­ment, food safe­ty and nation­al sov­er­eign­ty are protected.

Mitch needs to back track on fast track. 

Mitch is in a big old hur­ry because he doesn’t want seri­ous exam­i­na­tion of sev­er­al near­ly com­plet­ed trade deals, includ­ing the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) with 11 Pacif­ic Rim coun­tries, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) with Euro­pean Union countries.

He wants the slo­gan free trade” to lull Amer­i­cans into glazed-eyed zom­bie approval. Free is great, right? Everybody’s for free­dom! What could go wrong?

A lot, actu­al­ly. Think of that giant suck­ing sound,” as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ross Per­ot put it, caused by fast-tracked free trade agree­ment NAF­TA. The vor­tex occurred as the deal pulled fac­to­ries and jobs south across the bor­der to low-wage Mex­i­co and drew dis­placed Mex­i­can sub­sis­tence farm­ers north to undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus in America. 

Think of all the promis­es of increased exports and jobs when Con­gress fast tracked the free trade agree­ment with Korea (KORUS) in 2011. These are bro­ken pledges. Since the pact’s approval, the U.S. trade deficit with Korea grew 50 per­cent as U.S. exports to Korea fell by 5 per­cent.

The result: loss of 50,000 Amer­i­can jobs. And it’s not get­ting bet­ter. Last Octo­ber, the month­ly trade deficit with Korea was $3 bil­lion, the high­est the Unit­ed States ever expe­ri­enced with that county.

A report on the fail­ures of free trade issued last week by Pub­lic Citizen’s Trade Watchstrong­ly sug­gests Amer­i­ca should go back, not fast track, with this title: Pros­per­i­ty Under­mined: Fast-Tracked Trade Agree­ments’ 20-Year Record of Mas­sive U.S. Trade Deficits, Amer­i­can Job Loss and Wage Suppression.”

After ana­lyz­ing 20 years’ worth of trade and eco­nom­ic data, Trade Watch deter­mined that argu­ments used to jus­ti­fy fast track in the past proved false. It says:

Over two decades, a series of trade agree­ments not only failed to meet their busi­ness sec­tor and polit­i­cal back­ers’ glow­ing promis­es of job cre­ation, but instead result­ed in unprece­dent­ed and unsus­tain­able trade deficits, the net loss of near­ly 5 mil­lion U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs and more than 57,000 fac­to­ries, 7 mil­lion high­er-wage ser­vice sec­tor jobs off­shored, flat medi­an wages despite sig­nif­i­cant pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains and the worst U.S. income inequal­i­ty in the last cen­tu­ry. And, even for U.S. agri­cul­ture, a sec­tor that con­sis­tent­ly has been promised gains from past trade pacts, U.S. food exports have stag­nat­ed while U.S. food imports have more than dou­bled in the past 20 years of NAF­TA-style deals.

Not so fast, Mitch. None of that sounds good. It sounds, in fact, like Con­gress should per­form its Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly required job and thor­ough­ly inves­ti­gate pro­posed trade deals, not rush them past the pub­lic to appease Wall Street and multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions that want to ship even more fac­to­ries over­seas to low-wage coun­tries with no labor or envi­ron­men­tal protections.

Fast track is the poi­son pill lega­cy of Repub­li­can Richard Nixon, along with use of the word gate” to mean scan­dal. The dis­graced pres­i­dent devised it. By adopt­ing it, Con­gress for­bid itself from fil­i­bus­ter­ing or amend­ing pro­posed trade agree­ments. Con­gress lim­it­ed itself to 90 days for review and 20 hours for debate, instead of tak­ing as much time as nec­es­sary to seek com­ment, eval­u­ate and repair proposals.

With fast track, Con­gress delib­er­ate­ly upset the nation’s sys­tem of checks and bal­ances by elim­i­nat­ing an impor­tant check. Con­gress says it just doesn’t want to check trade deals. It dodges its exclu­sive Con­sti­tu­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to reg­u­late com­merce with for­eign nations.”

Con­gress has Fast Tracked away its con­sti­tu­tion­al oblig­a­tions sev­er­al times since Nixon offered law­mak­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go to recess rather than get down to work. Mitch’s deter­mi­na­tion to quick­ly do it again now is par­tic­u­lar­ly fright­en­ing because trade deals no longer are pri­mar­i­ly about trade.

For exam­ple, only five of the 29 secret­ly nego­ti­at­ed chap­ters in TPP deal with trade. Super­sized trade agree­ments now intrude on every area of life, from food safe­ty to gener­ic drugs to nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. They can extend patents that make life-sav­ing drugs unaf­ford­able. They can for­bid coun­try-of-ori­gin label­ing on food. They can out­law require­ments that Amer­i­can tax­pay­er-financed road and bridge projects use mate­ri­als made in Amer­i­ca. They can allow multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions to sue gov­ern­ments for dam­ages if a law to pro­tect the pub­lic reduces prof­its. They can com­mit the Unit­ed States to pay fines or revise laws if an inter­na­tion­al tri­bunal orders it.

That’s stuff to slow down, not fast track. 

Coali­tions of fast track oppo­nents of both polit­i­cal stripes have formed. A right-wing group that includes Amer­i­cans for Lim­it­ed Gov­ern­ment, the Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Asso­ci­a­tion and Eagle Forum held a press con­fer­ence last week to tell Con­gress to put the brakes on fast track.

The week before, a mas­sive coali­tion that includes Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers, unions, envi­ron­men­tal and con­sumer pro­tec­tion groups, com­mu­ni­ty and faith orga­ni­za­tions and human rights and trade alliances gath­ered to tell Con­gress the same thing.

The TPP would be the largest so-called free trade agree­ment that the Unit­ed States ever bound itself to. Trade among the 12 nations accounts for 38 per­cent of glob­al eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty.

Delib­er­at­ing a pact like that should be slow tracked. The plod­ding tur­tle is right for this one, Mitch.

Leo Ger­ard is inter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed Steel­work­ers Union, part of the AFL-CIO. The son of a union min­er; Ger­ard start­ed work­ing at a nick­el smelter in Sud­bury, Ontario, at age 18, and rose through the union’s ranks to be appoint­ed the sev­enth inter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent Feb. 28, 2001. For more infor­ma­tion about Ger­ard, vis­it usw​.org.
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