Broad coalition works to sideline fast-track authority

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

A growing coalition of progressive groups — more than 2,000 as of May 6 — wants Congress to derail the drive for fast-track trade authority.

The coalition — consisting of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations — wrote Congress in late April and urged defeat of a bill to provide fast-track authority for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. The coalition members cited threats to U.S. jobs and wages, food safety, affordable medicines, the environment and financial stability.

“While we are not currently permitted to see the terms of the new trade deal, what we do know is the fast-track process enables trade deals that hurt everyday Americans and stack the deck in favor of corporations,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It limits public and congressional oversight and does not allow effective enforcement. We need trade policy that strengthens our country — ensuring the rights of workers and protecting consumers and the environment. We need a democratic and transparent trade process that offers a fair shake for American workers. Fast track fails these standards and should be rejected.”

Also, the legislation would allow the president to enter into the TPP with a guarantee that the deal would be voted on within 90 days after it is submitted to Congress. There would not be a routine congressional review and amendment and debate procedures would be forbidden.

If enacted, the legislation also would allow a president — the next president — to select trade partners, launch new negotiations, set the terms and enter into agreements before Congress approves the contents of the pact or trade partners.

“Who knows who will be president next and, if Congress approves this fast-track bill, that unknown president would get unacceptable powers to unilaterally dictate trade policies that are do or die for American jobs and wages and the consumer and environmental safeguards on which all of our families rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The administration’s position that TPP is modeled after the Obama administration’s biggest trade agreement to date — the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement — further fuels opposition. Critics of TPP say the Korea pact was supposed to lead to more exports and more jobs. However, U.S. exports to Korea have declined 5 percent and the goods trade deficit with Korea climbed 84 percent, which equates to the loss of an estimated 85,000 American jobs using the same trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to claim the pact would create 70,000 jobs.

Organizations that signed the letter opposing fast-track authority include, the National Resources Defense Council,, Action Aid USA, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Sustainable Business Council, Consumers Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Electronic Frontier Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, Presbyterian Church USA, NAACP, National Nurses United,, SEIU and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The size of the coalition reveals the width of the rift in the Democratic Party, with liberal constituencies challenging the president on the issue and urging presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to take a firmer position against the emerging TPP deal.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who announced in late April that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, has been an outspoken critic of the TPP deal and fast-track authority, which have broad GOP support. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is not running for president but is the focus of a draft effort, also is an outspoken critic.

The president has said the authority he seeks is the same exercised by past presidents of both parties — beginning with Richard Nixon. And the pact his administration is negotiating would prevent countries — such as China and Japan — from having a leg up in global commerce.

“Being opposed to this new trade agreement is essentially a ratification of the status quo, where a lot of folks are selling here, but we’re not selling there,” Obama said earlier in April.

AP contributed to this report.

In the news …

TPP: The United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations — Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan — are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

Fast track: The authority allows the president to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.