Where is Ron Wyden on Fast Track and TPP?

Rick North Facebook

Among most Democrats and progressive independents, Fast Track and the TPP are quite possibly the most widely hated proposals on the political horizon.

On the night of the State of the Union address, about a dozen Measure 92 advocates watched President Obama on a large screen TV in Blitz’s sports bar. They liked what they heard. Obama’s impassioned appeal for an increased minimum wage, guaranteed paid sick leave and free community college elicited nods of approval, thumbs up, even a smattering of applause.

And then . . . this: “Today, our businesses export more than ever . . . We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

Immediately, a chorus of boos erupted from the crowd. They knew exactly what he was talking about – Fast Track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Among most Democrats and progressive independents, Fast Track and the TPP are quite possibly the most widely hated proposals on the political horizon. As I pointed out in a Blue Oregon column a year ago, over 550 organizations, including labor, environment, health, consumer protection, sustainable farming, senior citizens and others, signed on to a letter to Obama expressing their vehement opposition.

Last year’s Fast Track bill would give Obama authority to sign trade agreements first, then restrict Congress to limited time for debate, forbid a filibuster and prevent anyone from making amendments – only an up or down vote allowed. Congress’s power under the Constitution to regulate commerce? Delivered on a silver plate to the executive branch.

The TPP has been secretly drafted almost completely by corporations and their trade groups for the past five years. All the public knows is what’s been leaked, but the leaks provide a glimpse into the veritable Niagara Falls of corporate give-aways at the expense of ordinary citizens. For example, the Measure 92 advocates knew what could happen under the TPP if Oregon passed a law requiring GMO labeling. A foreign corporation could sue Oregon or the U.S., based simply on the claim that their future profits could be diminished.

Meat companies in Canada and Mexico have already challenged U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements. Last October, the WTO agreed and the future of the law is now threatened. These highly popular COOL rules allow consumers to make educated choices about knowing where their food is coming from. Most Americans would be astounded to learn that laws our government passed can be superseded by WTO and other trade agreements. TPP and TTIP would make this bad situation even worse.

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner already favor Fast Track and the TPP. All those Republican howls about Obama seizing too much power from Congress have become predictably silent when it comes to pleasing their corporate campaign donors.

The key Democrat in the debate is Ron Wyden, the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee. When Fast Track legislation was introduced last year, Wyden stood firmly against it, denouncing the lack of transparency. But where is he now on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s newest version, which appears to be very similar to last year’s?

He’s certainly made encouraging statements at town halls earlier this month. In Beaverton, he asserted “The days are over where trade agreements are kept secret from the American people.” In Grants Pass, he elaborated, saying that “We can put this stuff online. There’s no reason why all of you – the American people – ought to be in the dark about what’s in these trade agreements. I want enforcement, I want transparency, I want more Congressional oversight so that people can be accountable to the public.”

Sounds great, right? But when a Jobs with Justice volunteer asked him specifically where he stood on Fast Track, he danced all around it, refusing three times to give a direct answer. His “Trade done right” mantra, unsupported by specific protections, was wearing thin.

Here are a few detailed questions for Sen. Wyden, all based on leaks from the TPP draft:

Will he oppose provisions that would:

• Ban or restrict labeling, such as for cigarettes or for country of origin or GMO food?

• Prevent financial reforms, such as limiting the size of banks, reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, or a financial transaction tax, as proposed by Rep. Peter DeFazio?

• Extend the length of patents to drug companies, delaying generic drugs and making them more expensive?

• Settle disputes by tribunals made up exclusively of corporate lawyers whose decisions supersede any national law and any government court?

Moreover, are any of the above deal-breakers for him?

Wyden says he supports transparency, but he’s never said when: Will he insist on putting the TPP text publicly online BEFORE Fast Track is debated and voted upon in Congress?

He’s shown courage before, taking lead roles in confronting the NSA’s spying on ordinary citizens and defending net neutrality.

He’s now at a defining moment for trade agreements. He can either capitulate to Wall Street (as Obama has apparently done) or he can defend all the rest of us on Main Street.

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