On Friday, June 12, the nationwide populist movement to stop fast-track authority for secretive, pro-corporate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) scored a major victory: a necessary component of fast-track was overwhelmingly defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although derailing fast-track is a victory, it is not the final nail in the coffin for this terrible trade policy. Immediately after the Friday vote, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) scheduled another vote to occur sometime this week.
When fast-track, more formally known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), made its way through the U.S. Senate, an amendment known as “Trade Adjustment Assistance” (TAA) was added to protect workers from the inevitable job loss that will occur as a result of TPP. But in order to pass fast-track in the House, Boehner decided it would be best to split the trade bill in half — one vote for TPA, one vote for TAA — and then stitch them back together to send on to President Barack Obama’s desk.
The reasoning was that with TPA and TAA voted on in one package, the bill would have been likely to fail. But when considered separately, Republicans were likely to carry the vote for TPA (because Democrats are generally fierce TPA opponents) and the Democrats were likely to carry the vote for TAA (Republicans are generally against TAA because it is a taxpayer funded welfare program that encourages “takers,” according to Mitt Romney).
But that strategy backfired on Boehner Friday when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave a speech on the chamber floor just before the vote urging her Democratic colleagues to vote against TAA in order to stop the overall fast-track proposal. The House then declined to pass TAA by a 126-302 vote, effectively stalling fast-track. This happened because of the intense push-back in our communities, which compelled members of Congress to act. The votes from Minnesota’s delegation can be viewed in the table at the bottom of this blog.
Minnesota lawmakers from both urban and rural districts joined together to defeat fast-track. Rep. Keith Ellison, representing Minneapolis, has been a long-time champion of trade issues, alongside Rep. Rick Nolan, whose district covers much of northern Minnesota.
After the fast-track vote, Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the southern-most portion of Minnesota, said in a statement, “I’m for trade as long as it’s fair trade, but we can’t ensure that is the case if we fast-track this agreement and keep Congress—and constituents—in the dark. Trade can be a powerful tool for good, but as we’ve seen in the past with agreements like NAFTA, sometimes these agreements work against the American worker. We need a trade deal that’s fair, that restricts currency manipulation, promotes ‘Made in America’ manufacturing, and opens foreign markets for our agricultural products. Unfortunately, TPA—and by extension TAA—by its very nature, makes it so Congress cannot ensure that is the case, which is why I voted against these measures today.”
Soon after the defeat, Rep. Boehner immediately scheduled another vote on TAA. But that’s not working out so well for him, either. In order to pass TAA, trade proponents need to move more than 90 votes — not a small task, especially considering the mounting pressure from a nationwide populist movement against fast-track. Realizing at least temporary defeat, Boehner opted to instead vote on punting the fast-track vote six weeks down the road until the end of July. This move gives even more hope to all American citizens that, yes, the power of the people can still go up against the power of corporate interests, and win.
This is a victory of people over corporations that is worthy of celebration, but the House battle isn’t over yet. Corporate-dominated trade proponents will most certainly continue their well-funded lobbying efforts in Congress to get this passed, whatever way they can. The Republican House leadership has shifted the vote to a time when they think it is more likely to get the 90 votes they need. They may also raise the stakes by attaching fast-track to budget legislation that must pass to avoid a federal government shut down, among other potential legislative maneuvers.
As Land Stewardship Project members and supporters know, LSP has been active in working to defeat Congressional approval of fast-track and TPP since 2014. We have brought LSP members to meet with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., testified at Congressional field hearings, joined in direct actions to oppose the vote, informed over 60,000 Minnesotans about the issue and stood alongside thousands of allies, especially the Communication Workers of America, Food and Water Watch and the Institute on Agriculture and Trade Policy. We have also sent numerous action alerts and penned newspaper commentaries throughout the trade fight.
LSP will continue to stay on top of this issue as it develops. Stay tuned.
Land Stewardship Project organizer Kaitlyn O’Connor can be reached at 612-722-6377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.