Last week, both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee passed their respective trade promotion authority (TPA) bills (H.R. 1890 and S. 995, respectively). If passed, these measures would grant the executive branch so-called “fast track” authority for the next several years, enabling the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to negotiate trade and investment deals quietly and forcing Congress to give these deals up or down votes with no opportunity to strike or amend problematic provisions in such trade agreements.
While both bills are similar, the Senate version includes human-trafficking language, a contentious issue in the Senate. In addition, several senators from both parties have expressed concerns over TPA, making a path forward unclear.
During the House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) offered an alternative dubbed “Right Track” to address concerns raised by many of TPA’s opponents, including those of us in the labor movement.
“Unfortunately, the negotiations are not on the right track,” Levin said at the markup. “In some areas, we don’t know where [the USTR] is headed, and in others we don’t like where they are.”
Levin’s alternative was rejected during the hearing.
“If you want to understand why the middle class in America is disappearing and why we have more wealth and income inequality in America than we have had since the late 1920s, you have to address the issue of trade,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has actively opposed TPA and who announced his bid for the presidency this week. “All of the major corporations want to continue with this trade policy. Wall Street wants to continue this trade policy. The drug companies want to continue this trade policy. But organizations representing American workers and the environment…want new trade policies.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also has been a leading voice of opposition to TPA, calling for the release of each trade deal in advance of a TPA vote.
“We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it,” Warren said. “They say the deal is nearly done and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises—but people like you can’t see the actual deal.”
The next steps for H.R. 1890 and S. 995 will require floor consideration by each chamber, followed by a conference to iron out the differences between the bills.
In the Senate, the bill will likely need 60 votes to pass. At this point, it is unclear whether those votes can be secured, with several senators from both parties expressing various concerns over issues ranging from worker protections and job losses, as well as general opposition to granting the Obama administration any additional authority.
In the House, the measure must obtain 218 votes for passage. However, with dozens of Republicans reportedly raising concerns, the GOP must secure the votes of potentially dozens of Democrats to offset any Republican defections.
“I’m leaning no—I just have some concerns about giving over power to the president,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “This president has taken more congressional authority under himself already and I have concerns about giving him any more ability to do that.”
NALC President Fredric Rolando has sent a letter to Congress, calling on lawmakers to ensure “that there is transparency and equity in the trade process.”
“Congress must maintain its ability to approve trade partners in advance,” Rolando wrote, “to determine whether America’s objectives are being met inclusively, and to have the ability to strike or amend from trade deals provisions that fail to incorporate your input.”
NALC encourages all members to urge their members of Congress to vote “No” on H.R. 1890 and S. 995 should either or both come up for a vote.