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Victory for Grassroots as Fast Track Goes Down in Crucial Senate Vote

‘We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we,’ says Democracy for America

By Deirdre Fulton

Update (3 pm EDT):

In what was immediately heralded as a victory for the grassroots, Senate Democrats on Tuesday stymied President Barack Obama’s corporate-driven trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from taking up Fast Track legislation.

According to news reports, a cloture motion to cut off a filibuster and proceed to debate fell short of the 60 votes necessary to pass(52-45). Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, was the only Democrat to vote yes.

Civil society groups lauded Tuesday’s outcome and what it could mean for future trade votes.

“The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” cheered Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division. “The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for Fast Track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrats and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.”

Still, now is not the time for the grassroots to become complacent, warned Democracy for America executive director Charles Chamberlain in a statement released just after the vote.

“While we celebrate today’s failed Fast Track vote for the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, the hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who have united behind Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders to defeat the TPP will not rest until it’s dead, buried, and covered with six-inches of concrete,” Chamberlain said. “Today, the army of corporate executives and industry lobbyists who wrote the Trans-Pacific Partnership by and for themselves failed to secure support for the Fast Track legislation they know they need to ram their bad trade deal through Congress.”

However, he added, “We know the forces pushing the job-killing TPP won’t stop here, and they should know, neither will we.”

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal opponent of Fast Track and gave a stirring speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote on Tuesday, added: “The Senate vote today was an important first victory in what will be a long battle.”

“Today was a good step forward,” he said, “but much more needs to be done.”

Earlier…

Amid convoluted political machinations and ever-mounting progressive opposition, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to move forward with Fast Track authority, which would for six years help ram corporate-friendly trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.

The vote is likely to be very close—”a cliffhanger,” according to Politico; “a knife-edge vote,” says Reuters; “a squeaker,” as per the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.

Proponents in the Senate must secure 60 votes on Tuesday to begin debate on Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority. While the vote is procedural, the Wall Street Journal notes that it “could indicate where members stand” on the authority, so fervently sought by President Barack Obama and his Cabinet, which would pave the way for passage of the 12-nation TPP.

Reuters notes, “Failure would send a worrying signal about the level of support for Fast Track, which unions, environmental and consumer groups strongly oppose, as do some conservatives.”

“Even if the free-traders get the required 60 votes, supporters won’t have momentum going into a vote in the House, where the legislation faces a tougher slog,” Milbank added.

As the Washington Post reports, the “vast majority of the 245 House Republicans are expected to support the president, leaving White House officials to find possibly 25 to 30 Democratic votes. According to one Democratic estimate provided Monday, there are just 17 House Democrats so far supporting [Fast Track].”

According to news reports, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block the trade bill until senators agree to a way forward on highway and surveillance bills, both of which face end-of-the-month deadlines.

In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who negotiated the details of the Fast Track bill introduced last month, has told his colleagues that he will not support starting the debate unless Republicans promise to also move forward with two other trade measures: a customs enforcement bill that would also crack down on currency manipulation and the African Growth and Opportunity Act that provides trade preferences to sub-Saharan African countries.

According to Politico, “Wyden’s vote is being watched closely by both Democrats and Republicans as the pivotal yes or no that will determine whether work on the trade bill can begin now or must wait until June.”

“If Wyden votes no, he may take enough pro-trade Democrats with him to sink Tuesday’s vote,” write Politico journalists Burgess Everett and Manu Raju. “That possibility has boosted the anti-trade faction of the Democratic Party, which is now predicting that without [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s intervention the vote on Tuesday will fail.”

The Post reports that Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he had “no indication” that Republican leaders would agree to combine the various bills in such a way that would pass muster with enough Democrats to proceed.

“I would say, at this point, most Democrats are inclined to vote no unless they know what they’re voting for,” he said.

However, “McConnell faces a delicate calculus,” the Wall Street Journal adds, because placating Senate Democrats by including one or all of the additional provisions “could create opposition among Republicans who support the bill, thus making it harder to line up enough support to ensure passage.”

Of course, such political horse-trading does little to address the fundamental problems with Fast Track or the dangerous trade deals the authority is designed to promote, which progressive groups were quick to underscore on Tuesday.

In a statement, Evan Greer of the digital rights group Fight for the Future declared: “Today, every United States Senator has a decision to make: will they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents who oppose the dangerous secrecy inherent in the Fast Track / Trade Promotion Authority process, or will they bow down to the White House and the incumbent industries who have been spending millions lobbying to protect their power?”

Labor groups also escalated their rhetoric. “America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations,” Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers international president, wrote in a blog post published Tuesday. “Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different.”

And in an interview with Greg Sargent of the Washington Post published Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued her verbal sparring with Obama, warning that passing Fast Track would have long-term implications. Because Trade Promotion Authority would apply for six years, for example, the next president could potentially “negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank,” Warren said, referring to the financial reform bill passed in the wake of the Great Recession.

As for the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, which she has repeatedly criticized, Warren said it “imposes a financial penalty, which has caused countries to change their regulations…[ISDS mechanisms] never had the authority to override regulations. What they had was the authority to impose a monetary penalty directly against the government and its taxpayers. That’s the point at which governments have backed up and said, ‘we can’t afford this, we’ll just change the law’.”

Meanwhile, in the House, environmental and public health groups are condemning Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) for coming out in support of Fast Track in a joint op-ed with Wyden published last month in The Oregonian. On Tuesday, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace began running television advertisements in Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C. blasting Blumenauer as “wrong on trade.”

The groups point to provisions in the TPP and other so-called “free trade” deals that would require the Department of Energy to automatically approve natural gas exports to countries included in the pact—which they say would lead to more fracking around the U.S.

“Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. In helping pass the measure through the House Ways and Means Committee, she continued, “Rep. Blumenauer voted to give foreign oil and gas companies powerful new trade litigation tools to go after the growing grassroots movement to ban fracking in statehouses, county seats and municipalities across the country.”

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  • Alice X

    The peril of the Corporate Coup d’Etat in the making will be back.

    The Corporate Dems will do a Kabuki dance and say we tweaked it, now it is good to go.

    The only place it is good to go is back to hell where it came from.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    Mitch was the only repug ‘no’ so he can bring the bill back at a later date…!

  • mulp

    And magically, four decades of US history are rewritten and we have 17 million factory workers in 60,000 factories that were not shutdown producing all those great American Made products like RCA and GE radios and TVs the Trans Pacific Pact would have destroyed in the 40 years prior to its passing!!!

    WOW!!!

    I feel so much richer now that I’ve had 15 years added years working for a high paying American manufacturer!

  • mulp

    ‘ ‘ “Simply put: a vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate the inherently environmentally dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas,” saidWenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. ‘ ‘

    Yeah, right… The fracking for natural gas has absolutely nothing to do with Wenonah Hauter and her peers buying and burning natural gas and oil and such, because fracking would continue even if no one bought natural gas and oil to burn.

    This is like saying that there is no pot, coke, heroin use in the US because international treaties make growing and selling these drugs illegal – prohibit supply and there will be zero demand.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    *ugh* What a d*ckhead… This is personal for me,” President Obama said in an email to members of Organizing for Action.

    After losing trade vote, Obama seeks to rally supporters

  • ThingsComeUndone

    Mulp other nations had protective tariffs on their goods until they developed the quality to compete at a cheaper price and also often the cash reserves to dump their goods and materials at a price to destroy our production capabilities China dumping Rare Earth Elements comes to mind. Just try selling American cars in Japan even with all the alleged free trade agreements we made with Japan or rice Japan buys our rice just enough to have a fig leaf cover of obeying the free trade treaties then they donate our rice to starving African nations.

  • ThingsComeUndone

    What is Rand Paul saying about this and the other GOP Presidential Contenders I assume Obama is planning on using GOP votes to pass this.

  • Bluetoe2

    The O mans corporate masters cannot be pleased. His walnut paneled corner office waiting for him on Wall Street for his “loyal” service is in jeopardy.

  • Bluedot

    This is not about the past. It is what will now be allowed. It affects our sovereignty. Yves has a good article up at Naked Capitalism. The ISDS can force payments on companies and governments notwithstanding our laws, environmental or otherwise, if an ” investor” ( meaning corporations) is deemed harmed. There are examples there. How would you like it if raising the minimum wage was deemed to harm an investor or if the labeling of a tobacco product was also deemed harmful to the investor and our laws are not applicable? Taxpayers may have to pay the damages as well.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    How fitting that Obummer’s site selection was announced today for his Presidential Shrine, err… Library, the University of Chi-town…! Alohas to ya…! 😉

  • Bluedot

    You miss the point entirely. If we decided to put more stringent regulations on fracking, the ISDS could invalidate them and our law would be moot bc it “harmed” an investor.

  • Bluedot

    Thank heavens for Warren, Sanders and Brown. Secret laws never seem to work. If this is so good, then let’s talk about it. Call your reps and senators and stop it. Maybe Obama can explain why this is so good.

  • dick_c

    Not that it would make me look favorably on this deal, but I’d think just a little bit better of Obama if something/anything that leaked out appeared like it might benefit average people.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    Nothing so far has, dick…! 8-(

  • marym
  • bsbafflesbrains

    So Obama has his comfortable shoes on marching with supporters on Wall Street? He is most distressing President since the last one.

  • TalkingWarrior

    CT, in other news that broke today that FDL might consider worthy of reporting, the FBI broke its own rules and DoJ’s, too, to infiltrate and get at least one informant into the anti-XL nonviolent civil disobedience group Tar Sands Blockade . . .

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/12/revealed-fbi-spied-keystone-xl-opponents

    TW

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    *wow*

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    *heh* Col. Ann Wright led some local protests to his proposed Kaka’ako site, mary…! 😉

  • TalkingWarrior

    Sadly (or not), I think history is going to judge Obama precisely as you describe.

    TW

  • dick_c

    He could just end up building houses for the poor with Jimmy Carter instead of hangin’ with the billionaires like Clinton and Bush.

  • TalkingWarrior

    Another plus item for my “why to emigrate to Paradise” list – the Obummers are claiming Chicago as “their” place, not Hawai’i! 😉

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    I don’t forsee Obummer’s ‘Center’ doing the same stellar work on monitoring elections worldwide…! And I do forsee another Neo-lib shill(shell?) like the Clinton Global Initiative…! 8-(

  • Andy_Lewis

    More corporatist than The Big Dog, more of a warmonger than dub yuh, and more twisted personally than Nutsie Nixie. Many of us knew he’d be awful, but I thought he’d be just plain awful – not godawful.

    “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” – Lily Tomlin

  • PillBilly

    Obama chokes & gags on corporate load, gets his half-back ass back-handed to him, courtesy of Senate Democrats. Weird! You’d think this guy was a White Chocolate Republican or something similarly dichotomous.

  • Andy_Lewis

    He’s “an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

  • Andy_Lewis

    TARP was shot down too – even more decisively. Then they rolled out the “martial law” threats. Will they go that far again if they need to? If they do, I smell an ugly showdown.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    I smell an ugly showdown.

    For both parties, Andy, once the text is, or rather, if it’s released for public scrutiny…!

    The Tea Party base would rebel if they saw the Local Rule concessions…!

  • StonyPillow

    Shocking behavior for bargaining chips. How dare we?

  • Andy_Lewis

    If the freepers are any indication, the TPers are already fed up.

    OT: I really miss the old fdl edit menu. With Disqus, you not only have to code your own links, you have to code the underline if you want to visually distinguish a link from other text.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    Dayam…! First Sherrod Brown sez… Democratic senator sees sexism in Obama remarks on Warren

    Now… NOW president: Obama’s Warren critique sexist

    It’s getting fugly…!

  • kimsarah

    Simply put, TPP is treason, and supporters are traitors.

  • http://ifthethunderdontgetya.blogspot.com/ ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

    Carper won’t be up for reelection until 2018. Too bad, he needs a primary challenge.
    ~

  • http://mosquitocloud.net/ aprescoup

    What was that vote count again? 52 Yeays?

    Wyden, Bennet, Warner, Feinstein, Nelson, Murray, McCaskill, Cantwell

    That makes 8 pro trade Democrats to make it so, once a few, largely cosmetic and unenforceable fixes, will make this POS look golden enough…

  • John

    Every time Obama makes a statement about TPP, someone should ask him why our trade deficit with South Korea doubled after his last “progressive” trade deal.

  • https://disqus.com/home/channel/harlansplace/ Harlan County

    It’s a smokescreen. Just something that they can hold up and say I voted no, before I voted for it.

  • mulp

    I find it so interesting that progressives want to continue all the job killing imports with average 1.5% tariffs with job creating US exports blocked by high tariffs and straight prohibition on US goods.

    You do know that cheap imports were what We the People voted for with every dollar spent buying cheap imports and not spent on American Made goods over the past 35 years, don’t you. No law required you to buy imports and kill American jobs, its just the lower prices that bribed 290 million Americans to betray their fellow worker.

  • mulp

    How many jobs are created by the high tariffs on US exports they are trying to lock in by blocking all changes?

    And why do they want to replace US made or developed drugs with knockoffs made with cheap labor in uninspected factories? Do they hate American business and want Asia business to beat them?

  • mulp

    The point of TPP is to remove trade barriers that Japan currently has blocking imports of rice from the US, remove Japan’s high tariffs on US cars, and other things which give Japan a trade advantage over the US.

    Warren wants to keep Japan with the advantage unless she can forced her terms on Japan, perhaps by threatening to nuke them again. And Japans unions are stronger than in the US and wages in Japan’s factories are higher than the US.

    China is not part of the TPP in any fashion, in part because it has been negotiating deals of its own with the same nations Obama has sought to include in the TPP. China is trying to use, and is using its economic clout, and its dominance of certain resources which Reagan and Republicans gave China to kill union jobs in the US and get cheap stuff.

    China is not dumping rare earths today and probably never did, but they did make mining and refining metals a high priority and provided massive capital infusions while the Reagan policies promoted “unlocking wealth in corporations” which means finding a way to sell off capital assets and give it to shareholders, often leading to insolvency when recessions hit.

    Reagan’s trade policies explicitly argued that killing off US industries because a nation like China will sell goods with zero profits, and loan the US money to buy its imports. Milton Friedman and Mankiw who was a young economist in those years explicitly argued we should take their cheap goods for the greater good and sacrifice the few who lose jobs.

    But Reagan did not get elected, nor did Republicans get elected because of corporate votes. No, they got elect by We the People who voted for Republicans and those who did not vote in every election for Republicans or Democrats who were not in favor of killing jobs, in favor of clean water and air, in favor of progressive values.

    Republicans were when I was a kid in favor of unions, civil rights, government regulation, environmental protection, of funding national parks because We the People voted in ALL ELECTIONS and did not think only the election for dictator was the only one that matters.

  • mulp

    So, you are in favor of TPP, right?

    Or are you arguing that if your employer is competing with a Chinese corporation that has stolen the patents and copied the products you make, you should lose your job because China has a zero tariff trade agreement with Korea while your US products face a 17% tariff, and you should not be allowed to bring patent violations against the China firm in China or Korea because a US corporation should not be able to force US law on China government owned corporations?

    China has used its dominance in rare earths to force trade concessions from Japan that give China better access to Japan’s markets than the US has.

    And the US was the global leader in rare earth mining and refining until We the People voted n the Republicans who promised free lunch economics would deliver cheap stuff with only “them” losing jobs. But the “them” was “workers” which pretty much meant all those who voted for Republicans screwed themselves. The US was the leader in rare earths because it was a critical resource in the defense industrial complex so the taxpayers kept the business in the US. Steel making was a critical industry for ship making which was critical to defense. Cutting government spending on defense killed millions of great American jobs and kept many civilian industries competitive globally.

  • http://mosquitocloud.net/ aprescoup

    But that was the result of wage stagnation which started in the late 60’s as Europe began catching up with its reconstruction of WWII destroyed manufacturing sectors and the increasing frequency of runs on the dollar. The Nixon shock; closing down the gold window, doing away with Bretton Woods and floating the dollar threw the doors open to corporate international trade.

    I don’t think that the peeps understood many of the implications of US trade and monetary polices. Wonder bread was thrown into competition with baguettes, Maxwell House/Folgers with freshly ground roasted coffee beans and espresso bars and the Walkman arrived from Japan. Liberalization of the consumer spirits and cosmopolitanism, in spite of wage stagnation was an “enriching” experience. I don’t think that the “betrayal” was a conscious act…

  • Kevin777

    Looks like the corporate overlords are going to have to dig a little deeper into their propaganda media chest to get this POS passed, matter of fact I’ve already seen a pro TPP commercial playing on Blomberg TV.

  • oneski

    This story reveals a contributing factor that has impacted trade.

    Timing is everything. Adding a little luck to that timing helps everything. Backing that timing and luck with wealth allows accumulation of everything.

  • http://mosquitocloud.net/ aprescoup

    This one, a still incomplete series, addresses the dismal non-science “science” of neo-classical, leave alone neoliberal, political-economics: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13830

  • southvalley

    If we have a history to write, in the coming decades, Obama will be remembered as the black man who destroyed America with his games.
    I think it’s no accident “they” put a black man in the WH to do this stuff. It’s treason and that will be his legacy

  • Georgi Tsakonis

    totally