In what has become a procedural roller-coaster, the House voted 218 to 208 yesterday to pass Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trade Promotion Authority, also known as "fast-track," will now go back to the Senate for a vote on Tuesday to determine whether or not to move forward with the bill.
The Senate approved fast-tracking the TPP in May as a package deal, that included Trade Adjustment Assistance, a bill that provides assistance to workers who will lose their jobs because of the TPP. Senate Democrats would not agree to approve fast-track without the TAA.
Republican leaders in the House decided to separate the two provisions, requiring members first vote on the TAA and then on fast-track, but both bills had to pass for fast-track to reach President Obama. House Democrats blocked TAA on Friday-- a bill they would usually support-- in order to stop fast-tracking of the TPP. It is unclear as to how the Senate will vote on fast-track without the TAA.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who was one of the authors of the original trade package, explained to CNN that the minority of Democrats who supported the TPP have been called out for their support of fast-tracking. Fearing backlash from labor groups if they vote again for the TPA without the worker's rights and assistance that they TAA offers, Senate Democrats may be more hesitant to vote for "fast track" this time around.
In addition, House Republicans have amended the the customs bill, part of the larger trade package, to weaken anti-human trafficking measures in the fast track bill. Under an amendment offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the US may also be prevented from considering climate change during trade negotiations.
"We're really nervous about a provision that binds the hands of negotiators and prevents them from doing anything on climate change," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for the environmental organization 350.org.
Over 2,000 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, released a joint letter opposing fast tracking the TPP, representing labor, environmental, farming, civil rights, digital rights, human rights, public health, faith, student, consumer, and other concerns.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been negotiated in near-secrecy, has been heavily criticized by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Fast-tracking TPP would prevent lawmakers from addressing concerns in the agreement by offering amendments. It would also prevent Congress from having significant input into US trading partners. That is a big concern, especially since among the countries included in the TPP is oil-rich Brunei, a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.
The Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their Senators and Representative to vote against Fast Track and oppose the TPP.