Fast track falters in the House, but it’s not dead yet

The day after fast track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) faltered in the US House of Representatives, opponents of the corporate-friendly trade deal celebrated the victory but tempered their joy with a warning.

“The House of Representatives has done the right thing,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “But the fight is not over.”

The House on June 12 voted 302 to 126 to oppose the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a measure that was added to the Senate fast track bill in order to win support from wavering Democrats.

TAA reauthorization was the second piece of a two-bill package that the House needed to pass in order to send the Senate version of fast track authority for TPP to President Obama for his signature.

Supporters of fast track authority were disappointed in the June 12 vote but said that they would continue to seek fast track authority for TPP, a massive trade deal between the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries that will further encourage the offshoring of US jobs and make it more difficult for countries that are part of the deal to regulate their environment, protect consumers, and guard the public interest.

House Speaker John Boehner said that another vote on  TAA reauthorization could be taken early this week.

Trumka said that he was proud of the grassroots effort organized by a broad coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, consumer rights, faith, and social justice groups that made the June 12 vote possible and contrasted that effort to the usual way that business gets done in Washington.

“The debate over fast track so far has been a marvelous contrast to the corporate money and disillusionment that normally mark American politics today,” said Trumka. “This was truly democracy in action – millions of people exercising their free rights to inform their elected representatives.  We should all draw from this experience to help replenish our democracy at every level on every issue.”

The work toward building the coalition began in 2013 when diverse groups that saw the looming trade deal as threat to jobs, wages, the environment, consumer rights, civil rights, and the public interest decided that they couldn’t defeat the deal by working alone.

Since then, the coalition which includes hundreds of groups with millions of members, began educating and mobilizing their members.

When it became clear that President Obama would seek a vote on fast track this year, their mobilizing kicked into high gear.

Town hall meetings with lawmakers attended by thousands of activists were held; tens of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers were made; demonstrations took place at the Capitol, on Wall Street, and on Main Street.

That effort led to a narrower than expected vote in favor of fast track in the Senate.

In order to win that vote, the Senate Republican leadership had to agree to reauthorize TAA, which provides re-training and other support for workers whose jobs have been shipped abroad because of trade deals.

Democrats have been traditional supporters of TAA, which expires in September. Fast track supporters thought that including TAA reauthorization in the fast track package would help them win enough votes from House Democrats to pass fast track.

But the Senate TAA reauthorization bill was flawed.

Many if not most workers whose jobs are shipped abroad because of TPP won’t get any help because TAA funding is inadequate.

The bill also diverted  $700 million in Medicare funding to pay for TAA, which Medicare supporters feared could snowball and put the popular health care program in jeopardy.

“Using Medicare to fund unrelated programs is a relatively new yet growing trend in Congress that simply must stop,” said Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Medicare isn’t Washington’s ATM.”

The TAA reauthorization bill also excluded public sector workers, a large sector of the workforce that may need help if TPP passes because it will encourage the privatization and possible offshoring of more public services.

In 2009, public sector employees were made eligible for TAA benefits after a study by the Congressional Research Service found that 12 percent of public sector jobs in the US are offshorable.

These weaknesses made it easier for opponents to convince enough Democrats to vote down the measure.

The defeat of TAA reauthorization, however, doesn’t mean that fast track is dead.

Fast track supporters may try for another vote in the House, or they may try to work out a compromise in a House-Senate conference committee that revives fast track.

Opponents of fast track are urging those who been active in the fight against fast track to be ready to respond in large numbers to whatever tactic supporters choose to take.

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” said Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers to the Guardian. “They’re  trying to do everything they can to get this back on track.”

“We must fully defeat fast track, so that Congress can work for trade deals that give working families at least as much standing as corporations,” said Chris Shelton, the newly elected president of CWA. “Our broad coalition of Americans — representing millions of union members, environmental activists, immigrant rights advocates, people of faith, students, public health and consumer advocates, community leaders and so many more — will keep up the fight until fast track is defeated.”

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