President Obama is pushing hard for congressional approval of trade promotion, or fast track authority, that many believe is essential for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, or TPP. The proposed trade deal would include 12 nations that border the Pacific Ocean, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam.
Congressional leaders from both parties support the trade proposal, while progressive Democrats and tea party Republicans mostly oppose it. Democratic opponents maintain that the TPP is unconstitutional and undemocratic, as the trade pact has been negotiated in secret over the past several years with most members of Congress kept out of the loop. Tea party legislators oppose fast track because they say it gives President Obama too much power. Congressional approval of the TPP would give corporations even more power than they acquired under earlier trade deals like NAFTA to set the trade agenda and override environmental, health and labor protections.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Margaret Flowers, co-director of Popular Resistance.org, a daily movement news and resource website which also organizes several campaigns, including "Flush the TPP." Here, she talks about the pressure now being exerted on Democrats who favor the TPP and the consequences if the controversial trade deal wins passage.
MARGARET FLOWERS: The members of Congress were home this week for President's week and so this was a perfect time for people around the country make their member of Congress know that they're opposed to fast track. So there were actions across the country; in Oregon they had a bus touring the whole country. Oregon is really a critical state because Sen. Ron Wyden is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and that's the committee where they will introduce fast-track legislation. The Republican chair of that committee is really pushing Sen. Wyden to join him in sponsoring that legislation, and if he does that, that will allow cover for the other Senate Democrats to go ahead and support it as well. So he's really crucial. And we're glad to see that Oregon voters have spoken out loudly, as well. There was a poll just released this past week showing that 73 percent of Oregon voters oppose fast-track, which is great. Sixty-two percent oppose TPP. So we gotta put him in the hot seat.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I know you kind of said this, but just to be clear, he is a Democrat.
MARGARET FLOWERS: Yes, he's a Democrat. And other exciting thing that happened this past week – and this is something that people can do all over the country – is that Richmond, California, voted to be a TPP-free zone, as well as Vermont introduced legislation making their whole state TPP-free. What communities are doing is they're making resolutions to say, "If you negotiate this agreement in secret and then you rush it through Congress without us knowing what's in it and how it will affect our communities, we're not going to obey that." That's not constitutional. It's undemocratic.
And so we're gonna stand up and protect our communities, because the TPP will affect people in their local communities. Part of it requires that local laws be harmonized with rules inside the TPP, as well as it gives corporations greater power to challenge us if we pass laws to protect our health, safety, workers, our environment.
BETWEEN THE LINES: So, can you be specific at all...like, what could be different if fast-track is approved and the TPP passes?
MARGARET FLOWERS: Right, so fast-track is really key to stopping this, because that would allow to put it through Congress without debates or amendments. If this passes, we see this as a real game-changer. Among other things, as I mentioned having to harmonize our laws, it does give corporations the right to sue if any laws interfere with their expected profits. Now, this is new. Under NAFTA, we had corporations suing if something interfered with money they had invested, but this allows them to sue for much more money because they can say, "We wanted to frack in your community, but you banned it. We would have made billions of dollars, so if you want to get away with banning fracking, you're going to have to pay us billions of dollars." And communities just don't have that kind of money, so it will force them to repeal those laws.
This is really scary, because it happens outside of our judicial system. It's in a court that is staffed by corporate lawyers, and we have no right of appeal. Their decision is binding.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Actually, my congresswoman in Connecticut, Rosa DeLauro, is one of the leaders of the Democrats fighting fast-track. It's interesting to see the coming together of some of the more progressive Democrats with some of the tea party Republicans, because, for different reasons, both are opposed. So, after this past week of activities, what do you have up your sleeve? What's next?
MARGARET FLOWERS: And Congresswoman DeLauro's been fantastic, and held an excellent press conference, which really broke through the media blackout that's been going on, so we congratulate her and thank her for that. We expect that when Congress returns from their recess, they will move to introduce fast-track legislation in late February or early March. And we think we have about two months to stop it. If we can push them back to May without passing it, then we start getting into the presidential election and the next election cycle, and nobody really wants to touch this in an election cycle. So this is really a critical time, and we're going to be urging people to use a tool we have called StopFastTrack.com, to contact their members of Congress, to also join our rapid response team where we'll identify people and places that we need to be in order to put pressure on them and we'll need people to be ready to mobilize for that. But everybody, wherever you are, can contact your member of Congress. Thank them if they are opposed to fast-track and urge them to stay strong, and if they're not opposed to fast-track, you need to push them.
BETWEEN THE LINES: And is there an easy way to find out where your congressperson or senator stands on this, or do you just have to call the office?
MARGARET FLOWERS: You know, it's an interesting moment because, for reasons, people are not really willing to list who is for or against. They don't want the other side to have this information. So really, it means that people individually need to contact their member of Congress to find out where they stand.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Just one thing; you mentioned that when the elections come closer, elected officials don't want to touch this. Why?
MARGARET FLOWERS: Because they know that we have a more than 20-year history with these types of agreements, that people in this country are aware of the detriment they do to us, so it is actually politically toxic and can be used against them in an election cycle.
~ Margaret Flowers serves as Secretary of Health at the Green Shadow Cabinet