Sen. Sessions: Slow Fast-Track Now, Before It’s Too Late

REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Fast-Track, or Trade Promotion Authority, will receive a final cloture vote in the Senate on Tuesday morning.  This is the bill that passed the House. If cloture is invoked, the bill will pass the Senate and go to the President’s desk.

More than four weeks have passed since the Senate first voted on whether to grant the Executive six years of fast-track authority. In that time, an enormous amount has been discovered about how the President plans to use this authority – information that was either not known or understood when the vote was held.  This includes the Administration’s pledge to use the agreement to impose “environmental governance.”

It has become increasingly clear that the President’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is far more than a trade deal. It forms an enduring, self-governing political entity with vast regulatory power. Yet fast-track – which has led without fail to the adoption of every covered agreement since its inception – would rush it through with less legislative scrutiny than a Post Office reform bill.

Second chances do not come often. We now have new information and a new vote. Which means the Senate has a second chance to slow down and demand answers about the President’s plans before agreeing to fast-track their adoption.

The President has refused to answer the most simple but crucial questions about how he plans to use fast-track powers. He will not even answer whether he believes his plan will increase or reduce the trade deficit, increase or reduce manufacturing jobs, or increase or reduce wages. Concerns raised about how this new Pacific Union will impact our sovereignty have been met with only a continued unwillingness to reply to any questions about the limits of its reach and power.

The strategy is plain: ignore the questions and rush it through before we know what’s in it.

And the TPP is only the first agreement that would be fast-tracked. Not fully understood at the time of the prior Senate vote is that there are already three international pacts that would be put on a fast-track to adoption. In addition to the TPP are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). Together they encompass three-fourths of the world economy, and up to ninety percent of the world economy when including countries whose membership is being courted. The same individuals encouraging us to leap into these binding global commitments could not even come close to predicting the outcome of our standalone agreement with South Korea which, contrary to promises, nearly doubled the trading deficit between our country and theirs.

The texts of TTIP and TiSA remain completely secret –unreviewable by lawmakers themselves – yet fast-track would authorize the Executive to sign them before Congress votes. Then the President would send Congress legislation to change U.S. law to comport with these new agreements, legislation which cannot be amended, which Senators cannot filibuster, cannot receive a two-thirds treaty vote, and cannot be debated for more than 20 hours. Again: no fast-tracked deal has ever been blocked.

We have recently discovered that the President’s trade representative, Michael Froman, has pledged no agreement will proceed without “environmental governance” provisions:

…we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement…our proposals would enhance international cooperation and create new opportunities for public participation in environmental governance and enforcement…the United States reiterated our bedrock position on enforceability of the entire environment chapter…

The Ways and Means Committee has also now conceded that, as an unprecedented “Living Agreement,” the union could change its structure, rules, regulations and enforcement mechanisms after final ratification – a dangerous and unjustifiable power. This international union would be able to make determinations impacting U.S. workers in not only trade but environmental, labor, immigration and commercial policy.

TTIP, about which very little is known, could form a new economic council involving the United States and the European Union.

TiSA would seek foreign worker mobility among 50 nations, including between the United States, Turkey and Pakistan.

These massive agreements, endlessly complex, with permanent ramifications for American workers and sovereignty, should not be rushed through under fast-track procedure. Fast-track was envisioned for addressing matters like tariffs, not forming a political and economic union.

The more vast, the more grand, the more ambitious the design the more important it is to slow down – not to grease the skids. Congress must retain its powers of amendment and review, as well as its treaty powers, for agreements that clearly extend far beyond trade. And Congress must protect the power of the individual citizen to control those who would seek to control them.

The transnational entities stitching these compacts together have always desired a governance structure outside the reach of the ordinary voter; as conservatives we should never rush into the unknown on the promise that utopia lies across the abyss.

Jeff Sessions is a Senator from Alabama and chairs the Subcommittee on Immigration and The National Interest.


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