Fast-Track Fight: Tea Party, Senate Leader Reid Join Labor’s Allies

WASHINGTON (PAI)—The old saying “politics makes strange bedfellows” came through again in the Nation’s Capitol in early February when some Tea Party group leaders publically joined organized labor and other foes of Democratic President Barack Obama’s “fast-track” trade treaty scheme.

And even more importantly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may have deep-sixed it, too.

Fast-track, formally called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), would let the president quickly jam legislation implementing so-called “free trade” treaties through Congress on single up-or-down votes with no changes and little debate.

Neither the legislation nor the most controversial of the fast-track pacts it would cover, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, include enforceable worker rights.

“The widespread interest in ‘fast-track’ from across the political spectrum is no surprise,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka after fast-track foes continued their e-mail, petition and phone call campaign against it for two more weeks.

The anti-fast-track coalition, organized by the Communications Workers and the Steelworkers, has doubled to 120 groups.  Its members have held 50 rallies, sent 600,000+ e-mails and petitions and added at least 40,000 phone calls against fast-track.

Rising fast-track opposition “is only more evidence of what workers have known for a long time: America’s workforce deserves better than warmed-over trade deals, which will do nothing to raise wages or reduce our $540 billion trade deficit,” he said.

“The United States is long overdue for an overhaul of its trade priorities and trade practices and that can only happen with an inclusive process that includes all our voices, not just the disproportionate influence of the 1%,” Trumka added.  Labor’s alternative trade law sets worker rights and environmental protection as pre-conditions, and tells Congress to pick which nations to bargain with, among other provisions.

“Our trade deficit is devastating to American workers,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.   “Congress should read every word of these so-called ‘free-trade deals’ to make sure they help American families and to get rid of special deals inserted by corporate lobbyists.”  There are 600 corporate advisers in the secret fast-track talks.

Worker rights and jobs, however, did not prompt either the Tea Party or Reid to oppose fast-track.  Another Trans-Pacific Partnership provision upsets the Tea Party:

Giving firms the standing to sue to overturn any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation – everything from federal job safety laws to local Buy America ordinances — that could impact present or future profits from trade.

The suits would go before secret trade tribunals, not U.S. courts, and there would be no appeals from their decisions.  All that together violates U.S. sovereignty, anti-fast-track Tea Party leaders told unionists they discussed the issue with.

“The last thing the Congress needs to do is to cede more power that constitutionally belongs to the legislative branch to President Obama,” Todd Cefaratti, president and founder of TheTeaParty.net, told The Hill newspaper.

Reid, seeking to hold the Democrats’ Senate majority in the 2014 elections, knows fast-track is a political loser, as most voters oppose such “free trade” pacts.

“I’m against fast track,” Reid told reporters on Jan. 29, the day after Obama again pushed fast-track in his State of the Union address.  The majority leader said he may not bring up the fast-track bill, authored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and top Republican Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, up for a vote.

“We’ll see,” Reid said.  “Everyone knows how I feel about this.  Sen. Baucus knows, Sen. (Ron) Wyden knows,” Reid added of the Oregon Democrat who will take over the powerful Finance panel when Baucus becomes U.S. ambassador to China.  “The White House knows.”

“I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now,” Reid concluded.

-PIA