Letter: “Fast Track” To Nowhere

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Any day now, Congress will be asked to consider a bill giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority, or “Fast Track”—something he asked for in his State of the Union address. The bill is expected to hit the halls of Congress just as U.S. trade officials complete negotiations on two very controversial multilateral trade agreements. These deals would have a far-reaching impact—attacking U.S. sovereignty and challenging our right to offer incentives to American companies for doing business with each other and keeping jobs here at home.

Fast Track was introduced last January and failed to gain support. Now, President Obama is trying to “rebrand” this bad idea, calling it various things such as “Smart Track” or simply, “Trade Promotion Authority” or saying that it will “create jobs.” But a dog by any other name still bites, and this one will bite us hard. Because it is bad. Really bad. So bad that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle along with a wide range of informed citizens and groups—from Tea Party patriots to small business owners and faith-leaders all across the nation—stand fiercely opposed to its passage.

If Fast Track style Trade Promotion Authority passes, Congress will be handing enormous power to President Obama; a power that the founding fathers never intended a President to have. (If you want a visual, imagine Speaker Boehner handing a smiling Barack Obama a nice big blank check.) Because that’s exactly what Fast Track (or whatever name he’s using to sell it these days) would do.

Some members of Congress who support “Obamatrade” say they can “negotiate” the details of future trade agreements as part of a trade promotion authority bill. Either they skipped that day in civics class or they’re being disingenuous. Because that is simply not true. Once the President gets Fast Track trade authority, he can sign any trade deal as he chooses without answering to anybody. He is not bound by a gentleman’s agreement to keep jobs here, protect “Buy American” provisions, or prevent foreign corporations from demanding the right to profit by drilling, fracking or running an oil pipeline through your backyard or mine. And that’s exactly what will happen if the The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is allowed to pass under Fast Track.

“Investor State” dispute mechanisms written into the TPP would allow foreigners to actually sue America—in an offshore tribunal—and collect damages paid for with our tax dollars. In effect, America would have to change our laws to guarantee foreign investors a healthy profit when they do business here, or take money from the federal budget to pay foreign businesses for the privilege of enforcing our own laws. (If that doesn’t make you boiling mad, it should!)

While it is true that Congress would have to vote on the final trade agreement, they would be forced to do so under conditions that amount to duress, with very little time to read thousands of pages, limited debate and no chance of amending it. As hard as Barack Obama is pushing for trade promotion authority, you can bet that if he gets it he’ll push even harder for approval of his audacious TPP, a trade deal that he hopes will become part of his legacy—just like Obamacare.

—Perri Lembo

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