Source: In These Times
Opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that’s been dubbed “NAFTA on steroids,” made major progress in the House this week, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle signaled their unwillingness to grant the president authority to “fast-track” the TPP to a Congressional vote. Without fast-track, it’s unlikely that the trade agreement could pass Congress in its current form.
Until now, negotiations on the TPP, a free-trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim economies including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, have operated under the expectation that the Obama administration would be able to secure fast-track authority—a legislative procedure that would limit lawmakers to a simple up-or-down vote on the completed deal, shortening floor debate and prohibiting amendments. The administration, which strongly supports the TPP, has already asked Congress to vote for fast-track.
But on Tuesday, 23 House Republicans, led by Walter Jones (R-N.C.), issued a letter expressing their opposition to fast-track authority, citing constitutional concerns about Congress delegating away its ability to regulate trade. The following day, 151 Democrats, led by Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), issued a separate letter expressing similar concerns. Taken together, this marks the strongest show of congressional opposition to the procedure yet.
Even more significant than the number legislators who have stated their opposition to fast-track is the diversity of the group, which is “pretty stunning,” says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, which has helped lead efforts to raise awareness of the TPP and build opposition.
In addition to the free-trade skeptics on the Left, the Democratic letter was signed by a number of party heavyweights—including DCCC Chair Steve Israel, Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, and 18 of the 21 ranking House committee members—as well as some unlikely suspects: About half of the neoliberal New Democrats, a group that typically supports free-trade agreements, signed the letter. That adds up to three-quarters of the Democratic caucus in the House, sending a clear message to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that the party is at odds with the Obama administration on this issue. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, both moderates and Tea Party sympathizers have come out in opposition to fast-track.