Fight against fast track returns to the Senate

The US House of Representatives on June 18 revived fast track authority for trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and sent it back to the Senate for further consideration.

The Senate will vote on Tuesday on the bill that passed out of the House.

The vote came less than a week after the House voted down a version of fast authority that the Senate had sent to the House.

Fast track authority will make it more difficult for Congress to carefully review trade deals such as TPP, a trade pact being negotiated by the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Opponents of fast track argue that past trade deals have resulted in the loss of good-paying jobs shipped overseas and lower wages for jobs that remained in the US. They also are concerned that TPP and other trade deals will make it more difficult to protect the environment, ensure food safety, and protect consumers.

Opponents of fast track criticized the House for not addressing the shortcomings of the original bill and vowed to continue fighting fast track authority when it reaches the Senate floor.

“Instead of addressing the massive failures of past trade agreements, the House and the President have doubled down on a disastrous strategy that will cost jobs, lower wages and worsen already record levels of income inequality,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, one of the unions whose members have been actively opposing fast track. “Going forward, we will shift our focus to the Senate where multiple Senators have already expressed doubt about this latest and most frantic attempt to pass fast track.”

The website Stop Fast Track has posted an online petition addressed to eight Democratic senators who have not committed on how they will vote on Tuesday.

The petition reads simply, “If you vote yes on fast track, we pledge to vote against you next election.”

The eight senators are Michael Bennet (Colorado), Tom Carper (Delaware), Chris Coons (Delaware), Ben Cardin (Maryland), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Ron Wyden (Oregon), and Mark Warren (Virginia).

In order to keep fast track alive, the House leadership attached fast track authority to a non-controversial bill dealing with pensions for federal firefighters and other first responders.

The House fast track bill does not include some of the concessions that Senate Democrats won in the Senate version. For example, it does not contain any protections against human trafficking or currency manipulation. And the House version doesn’t include any assistance for workers whose jobs are shipped abroad.

That assistance is provided by a federal program called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), set to expire in September.

The original Senate version of fast track tethered fast track authorization to the reauthorization of TAA. The Republican Senate leadership did so to win the support of Democratic senators wavering on authorizing fast track.

Excluding TAA from the fast track bill will make it harder for Democrats to support the current House version, which must be passed in the exact form that it passed in the House before it can be sent to President Obama for his signature.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have promised Democrats that if they vote for fast track, they will get a chance to vote on TAA reauthorization at a later date.

But fast track opponents, which include labor, environmental, consumer protection, civil rights, and public interest groups warned Senators about taking such a promise in good faith.

“Any Democrat in Congress who trusts John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to pass trade adjustment assistance that will actually help working families deserves to lose their job,” said Jim Dean, chair Democracy for America to USA Today.

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