Late Friday evening, May 22, 2015, the Senate voted to pass the Trade Promotion Authority (H.R. 1314) by a vote of 62 to 37 to give President Obama the authority to “fast-track” trade agreements through 2018, with an extension to 2021 possible. If this legislation also passes the House, this would mean that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Agreement may be negotiated and signed without any amendments by Congress and with only a majority vote rather than the supermajority vote required for treaties under the Constitution.
Of the Republican senators, 54 voted yes, four voted no and one did not vote. Fourteen Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in voting yes. According to the Roll Call, they are: Bennet (CO), Cantwell (WA), Cardin (MD), Coons (DE), Feinstein (CA), Heitkamp (ND), Kaine (VA), McCaskill (MO), Murray (FL) Shaheen (NH), Warren (VA), and Wyden (OR). The four Republicans who voted no are: Collins (ME), Paul (KY), Sessions (AL), and Shelby (AL).
Nearly every Democrat or Democrat-leaning organization from unions to the Sierra Club opposed the Trade Promotion Authority, so those fourteen Democrat Senators turned their back on their constituencies and the American working class they claim to support to follow lock-step with the Republicans they accuse of being in the pocket of “big business,” i.e. the large multinational corporations that comprise the membership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, etc.
There were over 100 amendments proposed, but only ten were allowed to reach the floor for a vote. Three were rejected for discussion or a vote because they were ruled as not being not germane to the topic: Inhofe (R-OK) # 1312 (AGOA), Shaheen (D-NH) SA #1227 (small business), and McCain (R-AZ) #1226 (catfish).
The Hatch (R-UT) (substitute) amendment #1221 was approved without any description or discussion by a vote of 62 yes to 37 no.
The Flake (R-AZ) amendment #1243 to strike the extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA) failed 35 yes to 63 no. The Trade Adjustment Assistance was originally a separate bill and was added to the Trade Promotion Authority to “sweeten” the deal to gain Democrat votes. Trade Adjustment Assistance is a federal program to reduce the damaging impact of imports. The current program features four components for workers, firms, farmers, and communities.
The Brown (D-OH) amendment #1251 purpose was to require the approval of Congress before additional countries may join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement because the TPP is a “docking” agreement in which other countries may be added after it is signed and in effect. In his comments in support of this amendment, Senator Brown specifically mentioned the need for Congress to approve the addition of China to the Agreement. Unfortunately, the amendment failed by a vote of 47 yes to 52 no.
The Stabenow-Portman amendment #1299, whose purpose was, “To make it a principal negotiating objective of the United States to address currency manipulation in trade agreements,” failed by a vote of 48 yes to 51 no.
The Hatch amendment #1411 was agreed to by a vote of 70 yes to 29 No without any description or discussion.
Two Amendments had already been considered on May 21st:
- Lankford SA 1237 passed by a vote of 92 to 0 to establish consideration of the conditions relating to religious freedom of parties to trade negotiations as an overall negotiating objective of the United States.
- Brown SA #1242 failed by a vote 41 to 45 to restore funding for the trade adjustment assistance program to the level established by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011
Of equal importance, the Warren amendment #1327 failed to pass by a vote of 39 Yes to 60 No. Its purpose was “To prohibit application of the trade authorities procedures to an implementing bill submitted with respect to a trade agreement that includes investor-state dispute settlement” [ISDS].
This is the chapter of the TPP that allows foreign corporations to bypass the domestic legal system to use to fight laws they don’t like. International Tribunals, not U.S. courts, would decide on lawsuits between the U. S and “investor” companies in member countries. Foreign “investors” could file lawsuits against city, state, and federal agencies for laws and regulations they feel infringe on their “expected future profits.” They can also sue for compensation for the loss of these “expected future profits.”
In her comments to introduce the amendment, Senator Elizabeth Warren mentioned that over 100 law professors had sent a letter to Congress and the Obama administration urging them to not include the ISDS in the TPP. I discovered that she was quoting from the “Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Investment Text by Lori Wallach of the Citizen’s Trade group” that was released on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. You can download the leaked chapter at https://wikileaks.org/tpp-investment/
This 13-page analysis includes this paragraph: “A March 2015 letter signed by 139 U.S. law professors urges congressional leaders and the Obama administration ‘to protect the rule of law and our nation’s sovereignty by ensuring ISDS is not included” in the TPP, stating, “ISDS threatens domestic sovereignty by empowering foreign corporations to bypass domestic court systems and privately enforce terms of a trade agreement. It weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the justice system and using an unaccountable, unreviewable system of adjudication.’ A May 2012 letter signed by former judges, law professors and other prominent lawyers from TPP nations warns: ‘the foreign investor protections included in some recent Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) and their enforcement through Investor-State arbitration should not be replicated in the TPP. We base this conclusion on concerns about how the expansion of this regime threatens to undermine the justice systems in our various countries and fundamentally shift the balance of power between investors, states and other affected parties in a manner that undermines fair resolution of legal disputes.”
This analysis is well worth reading to become fully informed of the dangers of international tribunals adjudicating cases instead of our domestic legal system. Two of the most dangerous features of the ISDS chapter are:
- “Foreign investors alone would be granted access to extrajudicial tribunals staffed by private sector lawyers who rotate between acting as “judges” and representing corporations in cases against governments, posing major conflicts of interest.”
- “Foreign tribunals would be empowered to order governments to pay unlimited cash compensation out of national treasuries.”
Senator Warren also mentioned that even the CATO Institute, a champion of free trade, had recommended removal of ISDS from the Trade Promotion Authority legislation. The report she referenced is Free Trade Bulletin No. 57, “A Compromise to Advance the Trade Agenda: Purge Negotiations of Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” by Daniel J. Ikenson dated March 4, 2014. The CATO Institute is a well-known American libertarian think tank, so its recommendations should have had some influence on Republicans in the Senate, but evidently did not. Instead, the vast majority of them chose to follow their cue from the international corporate elite behind this treaty.
Ikenson wrote that there are “practical, economic, legal, and political reasons to expunge ISDS from current trade negotiations.” He presented “Eight Good Reasons to Drop ISDS from TPP and TTIP, which you can read in full at the above link.
Since there was very little information on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in the major media prior to its introduction in the Senate and the failure of the first cloture vote on May 12th, it is imperative that freedom-loving organizations make Democrat and Republican Representatives in the House aware of the facts about the damage the TPP would do to our country.
America now stands at a crossroads, whether Americans will remain in control of their destiny or will be forced to bow before foreign tribunals and have even more of their jobs shipped overseas. If we are to protect our national sovereignty and our jobs, we must stop this legislation in the House by flooding their switchboards!
Members of the manufacturing task force of the California chapter of the Coalition for a Prosperous America of which I am chair have done their part by visiting the offices of all 33 of the southern California Representatives in the past year. The final hour is near. Let your Representative hear your voice! If you don’t know who your Representative is, click here.