When Obama was campaigning for the presidency in 2008, he told workers and union members to their faces that if “American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, and I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America.” Obama never did join workers on the picket line even as they faced some of the most brutal attacks against working families following the Tea Party electoral victories in 2010. He might still have use for those comfortable shoes, however, as he and his Republican allies are poised to force more workers out onto the street as their jobs fall victim to another anti-worker, free trade agreement: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
In a 60-37 vote today in the U.S. Senate, enough Free Trade Democrats joined their market-fundamentalist Republican colleagues to all but guarantee Obama gets the “fast track” authority he’s been seeking. Earlier this month, House Democrats thought they were able to torpedo the legislation by voting down part of the fast track authority package that would provide limited support to help retrain workers displaced by the TPP. Progressives had high hopes that stripping fast track authority from the legislation would force the Senate to reconsider their initial support. Instead, today the Senate stripped their version of the bill of any assistance for displaced workers, got some more Democrats to jump on board, and passed the bill anyway. According to the New York Times, a bill giving Obama and his predecessor fast track authority may be on the president’s desk as early as Wednesday evening.
The Senate’s move to get the fast track bill to Obama’s desk means that Congress is officially giving up its Constitutional authority to regulate commerce with other nations. That’s a funny move to make when the details of the TPP remain confidential and anyone who has seen details of the pact is legally prevented from talking about it. Once again we the people are cut out of the process. Obama has told us to “trust him.” That the TPP will be nothing like NAFTA and we won’t see the loss of American jobs or secret tribunals that allow global corporations to sue our government or overturn our laws if they interfere with profits. And yet, what little we do know about the TPP comes from leaked passages which seem to show that this trade deal will be, as we have been warned, NAFTA on steroids.
Now that fast track has been passed, we can fully expect to see Democrats begin to soften their opposition to the TPP and show their full corporate colors when they are forced to vote “yes” or “no” on the next step in the corporatization of our democracy. But there were some voices in the Senate who will not soften their opposition and their disgust with today’s vote was on full display. Here they are: