As Memorial Day weekend draws near, U.S. politicians are negotiating a number of important issues that will affect all Americans. The first of these is the extension of section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which has been used to justify mass surveillance programs by the National Security Agency. Senator Rand Paul helped put that issue front and center with his 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday evening.
The other pressing matter that is being considered is the reauthorization of trade promotion authority (TPA), or “fast track” authority. On Thursday, supporters of fast track gained the support of enough senators to advance the bill to the next stage. In a procedural vote, 62 senators voted in favor of the bill (49 Republicans, 13 Democrats), with 38 voting against (31 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 2 Independents). USA Today reported that, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to finish work on the bill before the Senate adjourns for the Memorial Day recess. The House is expected to take up TPA in June.” The final Senate vote could happen on Friday afternoon.
Under the Fast Track Authority, Congress can either approve or reject trade deals presented by the president. They would not have the power to make amendments. This is supposed to keep important trade deals from being weighed down by amendments, but critics say the true intention is to give the president more power and Congress less.
The approval for FTA by the Senate is related to the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history, involving the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The nations have been negotiating the deal since 2005, with global resistance growing since 2012. Supporters of the bill say it would mean more jobs and a stronger America. Critics say the bill will give corporations loopholes to escape accountability and empower international bodies, overriding national sovereignty of the signing nations.
In late April, Reuters reported that 300 business groups from across the U.S. sent a letter to Congress, calling upon lawmakers to pass the fast track bill. The business groups said: “To realize the potential of these agreements for U.S. jobs, economic growth and competitiveness, Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority.”
President Obama told the Washington Post the vote was “a big step forward this morning on a trade agenda that is consistent with strong labor standards, strong environmental standards, and access to markets that too often are closed even as these other countries are selling goods in the United States. It’s an agenda that is good for U.S. businesses, but most importantly, it is good for American workers.”
But is that really true?
Last month Truth In Media asked if the TPP was either the greatest trade deal in history or a corporate coup:
“The critics of the TPP come from a wide spectrum of activists, doctors and religious leaders. The most-cited issue with the trade deal is the granting of authority to international tribunals which will have the power to override court rulings within the individual nation states.
As the trade agreement nears completion both the Anglican and Catholic churches of New Zealand are demanding the government be more transparent about the negotiations.Radio NZ reports that bishops from the churches are concerned with the lack of openness and that corporate interests are influencing the agreement while the people are being excluded. The churches also called on the New Zealand government to make the draft text of the agreement public.
In early February, doctors and health professional representing seven countries released a letter warning that the TPP will lead to higher medical costs for all nations. The letter, published in The Lancet medical journal, states that, “Rising medicine costs would disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations.” The doctors called on the governments involved in the trade deal to publicly release the full text of the agreement. They also demanded an independent analysis of the impacts on health and human rights for each nation involved in the deal.
Also in February, an analysis by The Washington Post revealed the US government’s numbers on expected job increases from TPP are not factually correct. The Fact Checker examined several quotes from government officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Both Kerry and Vilsack claimed the international trade agreement would create 650,000 new jobs. However, these numbers do not take into account income gains and changing wages. According to the government own sources imports and exports would increase by the same amount resulting in a net number of zero new jobs.”