Once again, Republicans caved to the will of a rogue, progressive president. To put the Republicans betrayal of the American people in context, Sessions notes, “The request for fast-track also comes at a time when the Administration has established a recurring pattern of sidestepping the law, the Congress, and the Constitution in order to repeal sovereign protections for U.S. workers in deference to favored financial and political allies.” – Senator Jeff Sessions
By Terri Hall l July 13, 2015
In a rare bipartisan effort, President Barack Obama managed to successfully reach across the aisle and work with GOP leaders in Congress to grant him Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA is an expedited vote on trade agreements, which may sound good to conservatives considering the usual bureaucratic snail’s pace of Congress. However, fast track means shutting out Congress and the public from any of the details and negotiations that will occur in a back room, behind closed doors, until it comes up for a vote.
According to Wikileaks, the final agreements won’t be released to the public for four years after it’s approved. Four years!
Under fast track, our elected officials will only get an up or down vote on the final trade agreement – no ability to amend or change anything in it. Meanwhile, corporate lobbyists get access to both the text and trade negotiators who can and will lobby to make changes to protect their interests – a privilege denied to the taxpayers and their representatives.
An amendment by Senators Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions to prevent fast track on any trade agreements that could impact a nation’s immigration laws was ultimately denied a vote. Sessions led the GOP opposition to TPA from the outset. Only he, Rand Paul, and a handful of others voted against it in the first round. Cruz initially voted for TPA, but after revelations from Wikileaks that indeed one of the trade agreements being negotiated sought to change American immigration laws, he ultimately voted against TPA when the House version came over.
Secret deals takeover TPA
TPA actually got intertwined with the battle over the Export-Import Bank that expired on June 30. According to Cruz, the Ex-Im Bank is “a classic example of corporate welfare. It is cronyism at its worst, with U.S. taxpayers guaranteeing billions of dollars in loans for sketchy buyers in foreign nations.”
Cruz and others discovered Democrat and GOP leaders made secret deals with certain members of Congress who opposed TPA that leadership would push through a vote to continue the Ex-Im Bank, if they voted in favor of TPA. Corruption related to supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, known for rewarding lawmakers with handsome corporate campaign checks, ultimately hijacked the TPA vote thanks to Majority Leader McConnell’s maneuvers, tilting enough skeptics in the President’s own party to vote in favor of TPA, though they vehemently opposed it.
Ironically, the Ex-Im Bank still expired as scheduled on June 30. But the damage that will follow TPA’s passage was already sealed. Once again, Republicans caved to the will of a rogue, progressive president. To put the Republicans betrayal of the American people in context, Sessions notes, “The request for fast-track also comes at a time when the Administration has established a recurring pattern of sidestepping the law, the Congress, and the Constitution in order to repeal sovereign protections for U.S. workers in deference to favored financial and political allies.”
TPA’s guarantee of an up-or-down vote forfeits the Senate’s 67-vote requirement for a treaty and 60-vote threshold to pass important legislation. Though the President is required to submit a report outlining the terms of a trade agreement to Congress 60 days before the vote, the President can redact portions and later change it after Congress approves the draft. So the approval by Congress is a ruse. It’s no approval at all.
Trans Pacific Partnership
The TPA cannot be fully understood without its connection to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is the reason why President Obama sought TPA in the first place. It’s the largest free trade agreement in history, representing a minimum of 12 nations and nearly 40% of GDP. One of the key features of TPP is that it’s a ‘living agreement,’ which means the participating nations can change the terms or add other nations to the agreement, like China, after it’s been approved by Congress, without further consent from Congress or the American people. So the TPP nations can amend the agreement on the fly with no checks or balances by the lawmakers from those nations.
The Congressional Research Service reports that if the United States signs on to an international trade agreement, the implementing legislation of that trade agreement (as a law passed later in time) would supersede conflicting federal, state, and local laws. When this occurs, U.S. workers may be subject to a sudden change in tariffs, regulations, or dispute resolution proceedings in international tribunals outside the United States.
Sessions also warns the Administration can send Congress un-amendable trade deals that expose U.S. workers to a surge of underpriced foreign imports due to currency manipulation. TPA did not address or reform the known practices of currency manipulation, which hurt American exports and therefore American workers.
Job loss assured
A former AT&T Executive warned in a Reuters column, “since the [NAFTA and South Korea free trade] pacts were implemented, U.S. trade deficits, which drag down economic growth, have soared more than 430 percent with our free-trade partners.”
He continues, “Obama’s 2011 trade deal with South Korea, which serves as the template for the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, has resulted in a 50 percent jump in the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea in its first two years. This equates to 50,000 U.S. jobs lost.”
Wikileaks also revealed the TPP has a Healthcare Annex that would change U.S. healthcare laws, prohibit any reforms to Medicare, and give the pharmaceutical industry more power to protect their own interests at the expense of the public interest.
“The inclusion of the Healthcare Transparency Annex in the TPP serves no useful public interest purpose. It sets a terrible precedent for using regional trade deals to tamper with other countries’ health systems,” contends Dr. Deborah Gleeson.
Foreign workers facilitated
TPA grants avenues for the Administration and trade partners to expand the movement of foreign workers into the United States, including visitor visas that are employed as worker visas. The language of the TPA allows the expansion of the number and duration of foreign worker entries into the U.S. under the guise that it constitutes “trade in services.”
While there is no specific change to U.S. immigration law directly listed in TPA or TPP, it provides the basis for admitting more foreign workers for longer periods of time. The TPP can later be changed to increase the admission of foreign workers or manipulate the duration of their visas without the necessary approval of Congress. Obama did it in 2011, when he entered into an agreement with South Korea (without bringing it before Congress) that unilaterally extended the duration of L-1 visas.
Sessions argues, “…the TPA would yield new power to the executive to alter admissions [of foreign workers] while subtracting congressional checks against those actions. This runs contrary to our Founders’ belief, as stated in the Constitution, that immigration should be in the hands of Congress.”
Such actions could also jeopardize congressional ability to reform or change guest worker programs as it could pose a ‘barrier to trade.’ The TPP already includes a chapter on ‘Temporary Entry’ that affects U.S. immigration law.
Sessions says it best declaring, “Our job is to raise our own standard of living here in America, not to lower our standard of living to achieve greater parity with the rest of the world. If we want an international trade deal that advances the interests of our own people, then perhaps we don’t need a ‘fast-track’ but a regular track: where the President sends us any proposal he deems worthy and we review it on its own merits.”
But sadly, fast track is now the law for three years. Even its expiration has loopholes. If Congress doesn’t explicitly refuse to re-authorize TPA in 2018, it will automatically be extended for another three years, so long as the president requests it.
Now all eyes turn to the TPP negotiations and its submittal to Congress — expected sometime this fall. The catastrophic consequences of TPA are about to be revealed as Obama seeks fast track approval for this mother-of-all trade agreements being negotiated in secret with corporate lobbyists. That’s not all.
TPP and two other mega-trade agreements comprise what’s been dubbed the ‘Great Treaty,’ (including the TPP, the Trade in Services Agreement or TiSA, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP), which, when combined cover two-thirds of global GDP.
With the president’s ObamaCare legacy secure, he’s moving to secure his globalization legacy to facilitate the great equalization of America with the rest of the world — lowering American standards of living to put us on par with third world countries. Sadly, many in the GOP, beholden to corporate interests, are all too willing to oblige Obama. After all, it’s their support of TPA that opened this pandora’s box.
Americans must engage their members of Congress to insist they vote down any and all trade agreements that threaten U.S. sovereignty and jobs, especially under ‘fast track.’ Otherwise, Obama’s great equalization will surely commence; but without the ‘Consent of the Governed,’ legitimacy and moral right cannot be justified.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of nine turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.