June 24, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
The U.S. Senate voted 60-37 June 23 to cut off a filibuster on whether to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The “trade promotion authority,” expected to be approved tomorrow, will enable the President to present the 12-nation deal to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, with no amendments permitted.
The vote came after weeks of parliamentary wrangling and bitter opposition from the nation’s labor unions, which believe the agreement will accelerate the export of jobs to low-wage nations. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka threatened to withhold the federation’s support from any Congressmembers who voted for the TPP. Unions staged protests outside the offices of Democrats who endorsed it, such as Reps. Kathleen Rice in Long Island and Gregory Meeks in Queens.
“History shows it makes no sense to give a quick up-or-down vote to bad trade deals like the TPP that will only ship jobs overseas and lower wages in the U.S. But that is exactly what the Senate has done,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. “Yet again, workers have been tossed aside by some lawmakers who are more interested in pleasing their corporate cronies than doing what’s best for their constituents.”
The vote was largely along party lines, with thirteen Democrats for cloture and five Republicans against it. Five of the six senators from the tristate area voted no, with New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez not voting.
The House had stalled the agreement June 12, when it rejected a part of the fast-track package that would give “trade adjustment assistance” payments and retraining to workers who lose their jobs as a result of the deal. Democrats who would normally consider such a program essential joined Republicans opposed to aiding the unemployed, seeing that as a parliamentary ploy to derail the agreement. But last week, the House Republican leadership reintroduced a fast-track bill without trade adjustment assistance. It passed narrowly, largely along party lines. The worker aid has been added to a separate bill.
“Today, a majority of Republicans and 13 Democratic senators showed beyond doubt that they’re on the side of the 1 percent, not ordinary Americans, not working families and not U.S. communities,” the Communications Workers of America said. “These Senators caved to corporate interests that want access to poverty wages in Vietnam and the ability to challenge any U.S. laws they believe will get in the way of ‘future expected profits.’”
“With this vote, the U.S. Senate, eliminating the ability to amend a deeply flawed trade deal written in secret by corporate lobbyists, has sent an unmistakable message that access to life-saving medications and food safety are less important than the profits of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United, said in a statement. "Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce hardly need more handouts."
The NNU charges that the deal would allow “giant pharmaceutical corporations” the ability to maintain a monopoly over high-priced brand-name drugs and block access to cheaper generic drugs, and give global corporations the right to “evade or overturn” any public health or safety laws that they argue restrict competition, such as food-safety laws that are stricter than rules in other nations.
Other unions took a more optimistic approach, praising the campaign against the TPP. “A formidable coalition of the labor movement and those energized by faith, human rights, the environment, and Internet freedom will now turn its attention to stopping TPP,” International Association of Machinists President Tom Buffenbarger said in a statement. “We have strong reasons to believe this secretly negotiated trade pact will not look good in the light of day. We also have grave concerns about the loss of American jobs, the troubling Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, and TPP’s impact on prescription drugs.”
“At the beginning of this process, few of the elite, free trade orthodoxy, expected the President’s request for fast track to face the kind of backlash from voters and progressive politicians it has encountered,” United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard stated. “This fight for fair trade is far from over.”