Washington, DC – It has been one week since President Obama called for Congress to “give me trade promotion authority” in his State of the Union address so he can finalize the secret negotiations behind the massive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While it would be normal for Fast Track supporters to enjoy a surge of momentum in the days that followed the reality has been quite different.
Crumbling Democratic Support
The headlines the morning of the speech trumpeted the arrival of a formal lobbying effort from the Obama White House to shore up support with members of his own party. “A frustrated White House is planning to blitz congressional Democrats on trade in the weeks following Tuesday’s State of the Union address,” wrote The Hill’s Vicki Needham. But reaching their goal of 80 House Democrats was already seen as ambitious and the odds of success grew longer as the week went on.
Uncompromised, uncompromising news
Get reliable, independent news and commentary delivered to your inbox every day.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, after helping launch the previous week a coalition against Fast Track so broad and inclusive of Democratic voices that even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer have taken a cautious approach, continued to rally even past supporters of free trade deals to her team. She even brought John Barto Jr., the former president of Ansonia Metals, to the State of Union as her guest after he spent the day detailing how past trade deals, which serve as the models for the TPP, led to the failure of his business and the good American jobs that went with it.
Then newly elected House Democrats started voicing their public opposition to ceding their Constitutional authority on trade. Rep. Ruben Gallego and eight other freshman lawmakers wrote that they “join the vast majority of House Democrats in the 113th Congress who announced opposition to Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.” Add to that letters of opposition from Rep. Donald Norcross, Rep. Pete Aguilar, Rep. Norma Torres and Rep. Seth Moulton and the numbers keep moving against Fast Track.
The latest proof that the numbers just don’t add up for Fast Track supporters in the House came when the New Democrat Coalition, the hub of any real effort to deliver Democratic votes, announced a goal of securing the votes of 40 House Democrats, half of the number the White House is targeting in their whip operation. According to a story by Inside US Trade, “one informed source questioned whether the New Democrats actually have an idea of which lawmakers will provide the 40 “yes” votes they are seeking.”
Surging opposition, not support, for Fast Track and the Administration’s empty promises on trade amongst Democrats in the House is also seen in the Senate by the renewed strong opposition by the party’s leader, Minority Leader Harry Reid, as well a clear majority of his Senate colleagues. In fact, support is so weak in the Senate that at a Finance Committee hearing earlier this week, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley “suggested that Obama currently doesn’t have the votes to clear a fast-track bill through the Senate,” reporter the Huffington Post ““He’s going to have to work the telephones one-on-one with the senators” in order to overcome a Democratic filibuster, Grassley said.”
Growing Republican Opposition
Fast track supporters will be quick to say, though not publically, that they hope to win support for Fast Track from no more than a small number of Democrats and that their path to victory lies with the Republican majorities, especially in the House. But what is surely keeping Fast Track lobbyists up at night is the weak support they are finding in the GOP’s ranks, so weak that House Speaker John Boehner has said that the White House needs to deliver at least 50 House Democrats if Fast Track has any hopes of passing, especially now that the White House is trying to whip together 80 Democrats in the House and New Democrat Coalition is trying to cobble together at most 40 votes.
And in the week following the State of the Union, the voices against Fast Track within the GOP have only grown louder. A few days before the speech, a coalition of Tea Party affiliated conservatives held a Capitol Hill press conference to launch the next stage in their campaign opposing Fast Track. At the event, Niger Innis of TheTeaParty.net said, “This president has shown outright contempt for the separation of powers enumerated in the US Constitution…There could be no worse lesson for this White House than for Congress to voluntarily cede additional authority to it.” And, on the morning of the address, Richard Manning of Americans for Limited Government wrote in an op-ed that “it boggles the mind why the same Congress that was elected to stop Obama’s agenda would give him the legal basis to accomplish it beyond his wildest dreams during his final two years in office.”
And it is not just the voices of activists like Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly who “think it’s insane to give Obama some power to negotiate an important treaty in secret without any supervision, not have to account to Congress or the Senate,” GOP elected officials are speaking out as well.
Sen. Rand Paul, a possible GOP presidential candidate, opposes Fast Track and the TPP because the former gives away too much Congressional authority while the latter would undermine US sovereignty through secret corporate tribunals that can overturn American laws and policies. At the end of the last Congress, 19 House Republicans, a majority of who are part of this new Congress, sent a letter to Speaker Boehner calling on him to not pass Fast Track due to the number of issues they feel are not being fully addressed and they would like to have a say in.
One of the issues that TPP negotiators have failed to address to Congress’ satisfaction is currency manipulation by other governments. Members from both parties have repeatedly called on the Obama Administration to insert enforceable standards into the agreement but there is no indication that this has been done. Support for dealing with currency manipulators is so strong that bipartisan legislation is in the works in both chambers to force the negotiators to actually address it. Since Fast Track would clearly limit Congress’ chance to strengthen currency manipulation, or any other part of a final TPP pact, it is notable that almost 250 of the House and Senate members of this Congress already signed letters in the previous Congress saying this issue is critical for their support, or opposition, to the trade deal.
Congress’ growing opposition to Fast Track, even after the President’s inclusion of it in the State of the Union, matches with the opposition found with voters. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that virtually as many respondents said new trade agreements shouldn’t even be pursued as those who said it should be a 2015 priority.
The skepticism, and outright opposition, to Fast Track is due to the growing evidence that TPP is modeled on the very same previous trade deals that have been so destructive to our economy and jobs. For example, since the Obama Administration’s free trade deal with Korea went into effect in 2011, a pact that Congress and voters were promised would increase US exports, the US trade deficit with that country has swelled by 50 percent at the cost of 50,400 American jobs.
And the opposition is being seen in the number of national and local organizations, from immigrant rights leaders to human rights advocates to public health officials to environmental organizations to consumer groups to those concerned with internet/free speech issues, that have made Fast Track opposition a top legislative issue for 2015. As Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, wrote in a recent letter sent by 44 environmental groups opposing Fast Track, “trade should be done right — not just fast — to protect our families and neighbors from pollution and climate disruption.”
Congress’, and America’s, continued and growing opposition to Fast Track, even after the State of the Union, is due to the disconnect between our belief in what trade should do for America and the decades of reality for what it has done.
It is best summed up in a letter sent by Congressmen Seth Moulton and Pete Aguilar to President Obama and US Trade Representative Michael Froman on the day of the State of the Union:
“We believe our trade policies must accomplish two critical goals: growing our economy and creating new jobs.
“We cannot support trade agreements that outsource jobs to countries with grossly inadequate labor protections, wages that do not meet basic living standards, and working conditions that are outright dangerous. Similarly, we cannot accept trade agreements with weak or nonexistent environmental protections that allow companies to escape responsible standards here in the United States by shifting manufacturing overseas to countries that lack basic protections. Worse, outsourcing manufacturing jobs to these nations can flood the American market with goods produced by underpaid workers in dangerous conditions, further exacerbating the unfairness for those businesses that do stay in the United States.”