Many Americans have questions about last week’s House vote against the undemocratic, unaccountable Fast Track bill. The bottom line is that Fast Track is stalled, for now. To advance to the president’s desk, both parts of the bill had to advance. But the first part of the bill, a vote on the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, was defeated by a resounding vote, 302-126. This vote effectively killed the bill, but only temporarily. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) preserved the right to have a revote on that portion of the bill. And even if a revote fails, the House leadership can repackage the bill in a number of ways. In other words, this is not over. Global corporations and their allies in Congress will continue to try every trick in the book to ensure a clear path for bad trade deals that lower our wages, endanger our air and water, and increase corporate influence over our economy.
What is TAA?
Over the years, millions of America’s workers have lost jobs due to trade. The TAA program has been around since the 1960s to help workers displaced by trade receive training to help them find a job. It has always been a necessary part of trade policy, but it’s never been sufficient to protect working families from bearing the brunt of bad trade policy. Even in its best form, TAA is a modest program. It doesn’t create jobs, and doesn’t ensure workers find jobs that match their prior pay and benefits.
Since international trade is permanent, TAA should be permanent. Instead, TAA is designed to expire periodically so that the need to renew it often coincides with the desires of the corporate elites to advance new trade deals. It has been used as a bargaining chip to provide cover for continuing the current failed trade rules.
So is TAA being used as a bargaining chip to advance corporate trade policies that kill jobs?
Yes. If the TAA portion of the Fast Track bill passes, the whole bill passes. It is flat-out wrong to hold a needed program hostage to advance a trade agenda that benefits the few at the expense of the many. As AFL-CIO President Trumka has made clear:
Congress should debate whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership promotes the shared values of democracy and prosperity that the United States stands for, as well as sets high standards for countries such as China to follow. Or whether it merely speeds the global race to the bottom.
Or, as Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi put it, we “must go beyond business as usual and create a new model for trade agreements.” But we can’t have any of those debates if the cynical TAA-Fast Track package moves ahead. On Friday, friends of working families in the House took a stand: No more advancing a trade agenda that has increased inequality and devastated communities across the country in exchange for a program that should be permanent to begin with. That was the right thing to do.
Was the TAA proposal in the Fast Track bill even adequate?
No. The TAA provisions in the 2015 Fast Track bill are wildly inadequate. The proposed TAA bill is significantly underfunded, providing only $450 million for training, as opposed to the $575 million included in a version introduced by Reps. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) (an amount previously supported by the administration). Pending trade deals (including the TPP, TTIP and TISA) are poised to blow the lid off the $450 million cap.This version of TAA also would exclude public-sector workers from coverage. This is unacceptable. Workers in every sector are vulnerable to trade-related job loss. Working families must stand together and not allow ourselves to be picked off one by one. The AFL-CIO is committed to winning a better TAA program no matter what happens to the TPP and other trade deals.
Keep up the good work by thanking those members of Congress who stood with working families on trade by voting no on both parts of the Fast Track bill. Check here and here to see how your member voted, then call to say thank you, and ask your representative to stand strong: 1-855-712-8441.
Celeste Drake is Trade and Globalization Policy Specialist for the AFL-CIO.
Photo: AFL-CIO Now blog