The divide between the White House and labor unions grew on Thursday as a bipartisan measure to grant the president unilateral trade authority was introduced in the Senate.
“At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared in a statement.
Labor unions have long opposed granting the president such broad power through the passage of trade promotion authority. Also known as fast-track, if granted by Congress it would allow the president to make trade deals with a straight up or down vote– so, no amendments or filibuster.
While many on the left, and some Republicans, oppose the idea, others including the president have been pushing for it. The measure was introduced by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan.
“The bill put forward today would help us write those rules in a way that avoids the mistakes from our past, seizes opportunities for our future, and stays true to our values,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “It would level the playing field, give our workers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment, and a free and open internet.”
Though unions, and other groups on the left, have argued Congress would be willingly giving up its ability to protect American workers from bad trade deals, the Congressional Budget Office noted in a recent report such a deal would likely include ways for Congress to keep the president in check.
“TPA statutes include extensive, specific negotiating objectives to be pursued in covered trade agreements,” the CBO noted in its report. “They also include extensive requirements for Congress to be notified of any trade agreement negotiations and consulted during their course.”
Despite this and the president’s argument he can help working class Americans with fast-track authority, unions claim it will do the opposite by more easily allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The international trade deal has been negotiated in secret by the White House which has prompted concern among unions it will unfairly benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of American workers.
“Just like the TPP itself, there has been no transparency around TPA,” CWA President Larry Cohen argued. “Now, that legislation is headed to mark up and a floor vote in just days.”
“Leaders in the House and Senate, buoyed by their friends in big business, are moving forward with pushing fast-track trade promotion legislation that would allow secret trade pacts to sail through Congress with no chance to alter them,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa also noted. “That’s bad for American workers as well as their families.”
Though much of the trade deal is still in the dark, details will be made public once it goes up for a vote in Congress, even if fast-track passes.
“Congress should never have the voice of Americans muted in a debate over a process that could be bad for the country, bad for business and bad for middle-class incomes,” UAW President Dennis Williams said. “Americans and UAW members should have the right to a robust debate over their families’ economic future.”
The Heritage Foundation details that though it is not opposed to fast-track authority, it does think it should come with certain restrictions if granted by Congress.
“At a minimum, any new TPA should impose no more protectionist restrictions on trade agreements negotiated under it than were imposed in the TPA passed by Congress in 2002,” a report by Heritage detailed. “Preferably, new TPA would contain explicit negotiating objectives that are designed to promote economic freedom more effectively than the 2002 TPA did.”
“If Congress decides in principle to grant new TPA for the purposes of negotiating the TTIP, it should ensure that TPA contains clear redlines that will guarantee that the TTIP is a high-quality agreement that advances economic freedom and respects U.S. sovereignty,” the report added.
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