The legislative battle over whether to grant the Obama administration “fast track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership is spilling out to the neighborhoods where members of Congress expect to escape controversy.
Last week, fair trade activists in Sacramento, Calif., visited the neighborhood of Rep. Ami Bera. Bera, a Democrat, said he was on the fence on whether he will support or oppose fast track, a measure that would limit congressional action on the TPP to an up or down vote only.
|Members of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 joined other unionists and fair trade advocates to spread fliers around the neighborhood of Rep. Ami Bera, who was meeting with Pres. Obama on fast track legislation.
Bera may have been undecided, but the fence around his gated lakefront community in Elk Grove, an upscale suburb of Sacramento, couldn’t keep out members of the Communications Workers, the Citizens Trade Campaign, the Postal Workers and Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.
The activists went door-to-door, covering all 243 households in Bera’s complex, including his, with a flier carrying Bera’s photo, asking him to stand with his constituents and protect working families by voting no on fast track.
The leafletting was organized after fair trade advocates heard that Bera was headed to the White House to meet with President Obama on trade. He had previously flown to India on Air Force One with the president.
Despite the swelling opposition in his own district, Bera has announced that he will vote for fast track.
“Our members once again answered the call on short notice and went right into Bera’s neighborhood,” says Local 1245 organizer Fred Ross. “There is growing anger against Bera because unions have had his back in two very close elections,” adds Ross.
While disappointed at Bera’s decision to support fast track, activists say their work has helped move Rep. Mike Thompson, in a neighboring district, from “undecided” on fast track to a solid and public “no.” They are continuing to conduct grassroots lobbying in Rep. Doris Matsui’s nearby district to convince her to join Thompson.
While members of congress face pressure on the home front, Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has gone to work holding off action on fast track in favor of two other measures that he and most Democrats feel are more pressing: the highway funding bill and another reforming the controversial surveillance program known as FISA.
If no action is taken by May 31, a highway funding bill will expire. That would be a lost opportunity to put thousands of unemployed construction workers back to work.
Likewise, if Congress doesn’t act before June 1, a group of reforms proposed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, will also be shelved.
So Reid is demanding that both bills be dealt with before moving on to consider fast track legislation. Reid told Huffington Post that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a vote on fast track over the next two weeks.
“… Maybe he can,” Reid said, “But I don’t think he’s going to have an easy time doing it … We have some decisions to make and he’s going to have to work around me and the caucus.”
The latest round of conflict over fast track and the TPP coincides with a May 5 release of data on the effects of the three-year-old Korea Free Trade Agreement on jobs. U.S. government trade data shows that the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has more than doubled.
The Citizens Trade Campaign and other fair trade advocates claim that the expanding deficit with Korea may have contributed to the loss of 85,000 U.S. jobs. The administration contends that the agreement has led to a modest increase in U.S. jobs.