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Senate To Move Forward With Debate On Fast Track

After yesterday’s stinging defeat, the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate along with President Obama have reached an agreement to move forward with a debate on fast track trade authority. 

The Hill reports that “Under the agreement, senators will vote on two controversial bills favored by Democrats before moving to a wide-open debate on granting Obama fast-track authority to negotiate future trade deals.”

The Senate will vote on Thursday May 14 at noon on a customs enforcement bill that includes currency manipulation language and the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides duty-free access for sub-Saharan African countries to sell many goods in the United States.  These votes will be stand alone bills rather than combined with the fast track bill as Senator Harry Reid had originally requested. The customs measures are particularly controversial because they include provisions on enforcement against manipulation of currency to benefit exports form a country. This is a measure that has had widespread support in the Senate in previous years as shown by a letter to President Obama signed by 60 senators calling for enforcement against currency manipulation in the TPP.  But, it is also an issue that the president and US Trade Representative oppose because they do not think they can reach a trade deal that includes provisions against manipulation of currency. 

Then at 2:00 the Senate will begin argument on whether to proceed to a full debate of fast track trade authority combined with trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a program to help US workers who lose their jobs because of the trade agreement. TAA is generally opposed by Republicans and supported by Democrats. How that impacts their votes on fast track remains to be seen. The argument on whether to proceed is scheduled to end by 10 PM.

Fast track will be debated with an open-ended rule to allow amendments to the bill. In the Senate Finance Committee there were dozens of amendments proposed and some senators said they had dozens more. How long this debate proceeds has not been announced. Politico reports “Senators from both parties are sure to offer amendments to the fast-track measure and the trade assistance bill, which will take days if not weeks to complete.”

House leaders say they will consider fast track after the Senate passes the bill. This is unusual as finance bills are required to originate in the House. Starting in the Senate is an indication of the lack of confidence that the House has majority support for fast track. Indeed, everyone agrees that they currently do not have majority support. The House has always been seen as the key battleground for this issue and it is important the movement continue to pressure representatives who are undecided or support fast track to oppose it as well as to keep those who oppose fast track from changing their view. The Obama administration will be pushing to get people who oppose fast track to change sides so it is very important to thank those who oppose it, invite them to meetings and events to speak about their opposition, write letters to the editor thanking them and taking other actions to solidify their opposition.

The movement against rigged corporate trade is well-positioned to ultimately win and stop fast track trade authority which will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to pass the TPP and other rigged corporate trade agreements. But we must continue our efforts to mobilize people to take action opposing corporate rigged trade being fast tracked through Congress.

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