Fair trade advocates are praising the release of a new letter voicing Congressional opposition to Fast Track, a policy-making process that allows trade pacts to circumvent ordinary Congressional review, amendment and debate procedures.
The November 13th letter (below), spearheaded by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and George Miller (D-CA), was signed by three quarters of the House Democratic Caucus, and comes on top of other recent letters signed by Republicans and Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee. Taken together, the letters demonstrate a strong bipartisan demand for better oversight over the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement than Fast Track would allow.
“With trade negotiators rushing to conclude the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s heartening that so many Members of Congress are standing up and demanding that each provision of the pact be scrutinized to ensure that it is in the best interests of working families,” said United Brotherhood of Carpenters General President Douglas J. McCarron. “The middle class cannot afford for the TPP to become a ‘NAFTA of the Pacific,’ and at this stage in the game, only real Congressional oversight and intervention will prevent that from occurring.”
“The Trans-Pacific deal will affect working families, environmental protections, energy policy, food safety and more,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “Congress is right to want to do its job and have oversight over expansive trade pacts. Using Fast Track is like removing the seat belts and airbags from a vehicle and racing it toward its final destination. It’s an egregious way to speed up trade deals, which all too often put foreign corporations before families and communities.”
The 151-signature DeLauro-Miller letter sent to the President states, “we will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative states of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.” Signers include 18 of 21 Ranking Members from the full committees and 73 from subcommittees, as well as other important members of Democratic Party leadership.
While seven members of the Ways & Means Committee did sign the DeLauro-Miller letter, an additional letter from Democratic Ways & Means members, led by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), was also sent to the President just days before, stating that any new trade authority “must reflect the changing nature of international trade and ensure that Congress plays a more meaningful role in the negotiating process than in the 2002 TPA [Trade Promotion Authority].”
Republicans have also expressed opposition to Fast Track, including through one 23-person letter, led by Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) and signed by diverse GOP House members from Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and John Mica (R-FL) to Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve Stockman (R-TX) to Frank Lobiondo (R-NJ) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), stated, “we do not agree to cede our constitutional authority to the executive through an approval of a request for ‘Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.'”
“This isn’t a left-right issue; it’s a right-wrong issue,” said Citizens Trade Campaign Executive Director Arthur Stamoulis. “All Members of Congress should add their voices to the chorus opposing Fast Track’s outrageously anti-democratic type of policy making.”
The Obama administration’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and various corporate lobby groups have urged Congress to pass new Fast Track legislation for the TPP and other pending trade agreements. The administration has said they are pushing to complete the TPP negotiations by the end of 2013, although few observers believe they will meet that deadline.
“Trade negotiators from other countries should be aware that the U.S. Congress will demand more of them on currency, labor, the environment and other topics than USTR appears to be doing,” said Stamoulis. “Likewise, many Members of Congress have a strong distaste for USTR’s extreme positions on medicine patents and special investment courts.”
Dear President Obama:
For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated. Many have raised concerns relating to reports about the agreement’s proposed content. While your Administration’s goal was to sign a TPP FTA at the October 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, we believe that to date the process has failed to provide adequate consultation with Congress.
Such opportunity for input from Congress is critical as the TPP FTA will include binding obligations that touch upon a wide swath of policy matters under the authority of Congress. Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.
In light of the broad scope of today’s trade agreements, it is even more vital that Congress have a fulsome role in shaping these pacts’ terms. Given our concerns, we will oppose “Fast Track” Trade
Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.
Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.
For instance, an agreement that does not specifically meet congressional negotiating objectives must not receive preferential consideration in Congress. A new trade agreement negotiation and approval process that restores a robust role for Congress is essential to achieving U.S. trade agreements that can secure prosperity for the greatest number of Americans, while preserving the vital tenets of American democracy in the era of globalization.
Twentieth Century “Fast Track” is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better.
We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country. We look forward to working with you to ensure that Congress and the Executive Branch are working together to meet that critical goal.
ROSA DeLAURO GEORGE MILLER
Full List of Signers