Sunday, June 28, 2015

209.1 - Update on fast-track

Update on fast-track

Okay, let's go straight to it.

On June 23, Senate gave the bankers' buddy, the Amazing Mr. O, what some called the biggest legislative victory of his second term, voting to advance the bill to give him so-called Trade Promotion Authority, better known as fast-track, on the massive, still-secret so-called "trade" deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The vote was 60-37, those 60 votes being the minimum needed to move the bill forward by overcoming legislative objections. Final passage, now assured, requires only a simple majority.

Thirteen Dems, including such supposed liberals as Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, voted to please the transnational corporations rather than protect the environment and the working people of the US.

Let me give you a quick recap of the maneuvering over the past couple of weeks: The Senate passed fast-track connected to something called Trade Adjustment Assistance, a long-standing program intended to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals. I don't understand why such a program is necessary since all of these deals are supposed to be just so awesomely great for everyone, but there it is.

Anyway, the Senate's fast-track authority bill passed with 62 votes in favor. In the House, a coalition of liberals opposed to TPP and Tea Party types opposed to Trade Adjustment Assistance combined to produce over 300 votes against renewal of that program, which served to block the fast-track bill from advancing because the rules of debate required that both bills - the Trade Adjustment Assistance and fast-track itself - pass for the two to move forward as a package.

Then the pro-corporate caucus that is the House leadership - with the support of the pro-corporate caucus that is the White House - separated Trade Adjustment Assistance from fast-track and got the latter passed as a stand-alone measure by a margin of about a half-dozen votes, saying there would be a separate vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance in about six weeks.

So that stand-alone bill went back to the Senate, which has now approved it - which means that fast-track is headed to Obama's eager grasp without the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

The Senate is likely to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance as separate legislation, but its fate in the House is uncertain both because a lot of the right wingers oppose it in principle - the magic of The Market (pbui) supposedly taking care of everything - and because more liberal members may still try to derail TPP by blocking Trade Adjustment Assistance, since Obama has said he wants both and has even suggested that he wouldn't accept fast-track without Trade Adjustment Assistance attached to it.

However, expecting Obama to be true to his word is an iffy proposition. Recall that when he was running for president in 2008, he promised to renegotiate NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement, the one that established a massive "free trade" zone of Canada, the US, and Mexico and which was supposed to provide an economic boom and massive job growth to all three nations but instead, combined with other over-promised trade deals, has seen the US lose five million manufacturing jobs, having even service jobs outsources, continuing downward pressure on wages, and a ballooning trade deficit. As a candidate, PHC* promised to renegotiate NAFTA to correct its "evident shortcomings," a promise which he renewed shortly after his inauguration - and then promptly forgot. No move has been made in that direction since.

Right now, when I'm doing this, which is the afternoon of Wednesday the 24th, what I expect is that he'll sign the fast-track bill and then grandly call for Congress to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance extension, lobbying the liberal members of the House with "I got fast-track. It's a done deal. I want Trade Adjustment Assistance but if you don't pass it, I'm going to use fast-track anyway. So it's fast-track with Trade Adjustment Assistance or fast-track without Trade Adjustment Assistance - your choice." That is, he will dare Congress to vote it down.

What makes this worse is that in the course of this sausage-grinding, the fast-track bill has gotten worse and worse.

Remember how the Senate version included restrictions on human trafficking - the slave trade - and Obama wanted them out? The bill as passed by the Senate weakened those provisions as well as weakening provisions relating to currency manipulation and to trade enforcement - trade enforcement referring to what you actually do when one of the nations violates one of the supposed protections for workers or human rights or the environment - and added provisions that prohibit trade deals from addressing climate change or immigration issues.

What's more, something people don't realize, is that this is a six-year renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, not something restricted to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It means in effect that any trade deal brought to Congress by Obama or whoever is the next president already works under fast-track. One such deal could be the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a series of trade deals being worked out - of course - mostly in secret, but these are between the European Union and US. Sort of like a TAP: a Trans-Atlantic Partnership.

You may have noticed I called the TPP a "so-called" trade deal. That's because it is not a trade deal. Trade is about trade, about the exchange of goods and services; international trade is about the exchange of goods and services across international boundaries. TPP is not a trade agreement. In fact only five of its 29 draft chapters - and let me emphasize here that what we know is from leaks, remember this is still all secret - but only five of its 29 draft chapters deal with trade.

TPP is not a trade agreement. Rather, it is a statement of corporate and investor rights. It is not designed to promote trade, it is designed to protect investor returns and corporate profits. "Trade" is merely the cover story.

How much of a cover story? It develops that when the deal is finalized, only the final text will be released. Everything else, negotiating documents, understandings, side agreements, codicils, are all to be kept secret until four years after the agreement goes into effect. Even the agreement to keep those secrets was itself intended to be secret. We are only supposed to know what our Lords and Masters deign to tell us in their own interest.

I really thought we had a chance to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's not a done deal yet: Remember that fast-track passed the House by a vote of just 218-208, an effective margin of just six votes, if just six votes had flipped it would have failed, so when the finished deal finally is presented to Congress, some of those now-secret provisions may spook enough people to vote it down.

But right now I'm not counting on that as I can hear the clinking of champagne glasses echoing through the top-floor offices of transnational corporations on both sides of the Pacific - and also down the halls of the White House.

We are so screwed.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

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