Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Himes Faulted for Stance on Fast Track

By Reginald Johnson

            As a vote in Congress on “Fast Track” legislation draws near,  Rep. Jim Himes’ decision to back the controversial trade bill is being criticized by union officials and progressive activists.

           After months of sitting on the fence about which way he would vote,  Himes, a Democrat representing much of Fairfield County, came out last week and said he will vote yes on a bill granting Trade Promotion Authority to President Obama. The bill, nicknamed Fast Track because it speeds up the process for approving trade treaties, empowers the president to force Congress to vote on a trade treaty within 60-90 days, limit debate and prohibit any amendments.

    If Fast Track passes --- and a vote could come as soon as Friday --- it will set the stage for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. The agreement is supported strongly by big corporations, most Republicans, and Obama.

   After meeting with supporters of TPP and critics, including labor and environmental groups, the Fourth District congressman said he came down on the side of supporting Fast Track in good part because of Connecticut’s export-driven economy.

   “TPP offers the potential for rich export opportunities, and many high-paying export-oriented jobs,” Himes said.

   “Make no mistake, Connecticut is an export economy, and growing global trade and markets will help strengthen our middle class,” he said. “In 2013, there were $16.4 billion in Connecticut exports. $11.9 billion, or 67.5% of that, came from the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metro area. To say that trade is important to our district is an understatement.”

  Himes, who said he had read the whole TPP agreement, said that so far, it appears Obama is making sure that the trade agreement is addressing environmental, labor and consumer concerns.

   But opponents of the trade bills took the congressman to task on a number of counts.

  Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the Connecticut State AFL-CIO said Himes has come down on the side of corporations and not workers.

  “Rep. Himes decision …to support Wall Street profits over Main Street jobs will live long in the memory of 4th District working men and women,” she said.

   “If Rep. Himes is sincere about creating jobs and revitalizing manufacturing, he needs to use his leverage as a member of Congress to reshape the Trans-Pacific Partnership to help rather than hurt workers in his district. Unfortunately, by supporting Fast Track, Himes is surrendering his ability to offer any amendments to improve this trade agreement or any other future agreements up for six years,” Pelletier said.

   One of the leaders of a grassroots group fighting against Fast Track and TPP said she was skeptical about Himes’ claim that he had read and understood the full text of the TPP.

  Margaret Flowers, from the group Popular Resistance, said that “the text is filled with legalese that could not possibly be fully understood by going into a room and reading it without the ability to analyze its impacts. If Himes is so supportive after reading it, I would urge him to write out the specific areas that he agrees with and the areas of concern that he has. I doubt that he could.”

  Flowers emphasized what other critics have charged, that the whole process for negotiating the TPP has been secretive and behind closed doors, with members of Congress only being given limited access to reading the text. The public has been given no access, despite the huge impact the treaty will have on the U.S. economy and all levels of government here. But corporate lawyers --- hundreds of them --- have been involved in negotiations on the wording of the treaty.

   “If Himes thinks TPP is so great, why does he support a secret and undemocratic process of passing it? Why doesn’t he allow the public to have full review of what is in the text and a debate about how it will impact our economy and our communities,” she asked.

Opponents of Fast Track rally recently in Bridgeport.

   Himes said in a letter to constituents explaining his decision on Fast Track that he did not think the closed-door negotiations were a problem and pointed out that when the TPP agreement is finalized, the text will be accessible to the public.

   “Most sensitive negotiations --- collective bargaining by unions or the purchase of a home for example --- happen behind closed doors.  In the case of TPP, after negotiators reach agreement, the deal will be made fully public online for 60 days before the President can sign it, followed by several months of review and consideration before Congress votes on it,” he said.

  In general, critics claim that the TPP is a corporate giveaway, giving corporations both in the U.S. and overseas the legal ability to thwart national and state laws set up to protect consumers, workers and the environment.

  That raises the issue of sovereignty, and whether the TPP and other trade treaties that are planned, don’t undermine the role of nations in making their own laws, and in the process, transfer power to multi-national corporations.

  Instead of sovereign nations making their own laws, people will be under a form of “corporate governance.”

   A majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives are opposed to Fast Track. Most Republicans favor the bill as well as the TPP, but some GOP members are opposed, due to concerns over the threat to sovereignty.

  Most analysts see the House vote on Fast Track as too close to call. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. --- who publicly has not taken stand on which way she will vote --- is reportedly behind the scenes trying to line up “yes” votes for President Obama and Fast Track.


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