In what is being depicted as a devastating blow to President Obama, the House of Representatives today resoundingly rejected a proposal that would grant financial aid to displaced workers by a vote of 302 to 126, damaging the possibility that Congress would grant the president fast-track trade authority to complete the Trans Pacific Partnership, an accord with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
The big news is how many House Democrats who generally stand by Obama opposed him on this vote, despite a last-hour lobbying effort. Among those usually reliable Obama supporters in the Democratic Caucus was Tampa Bay area U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has been consistent in saying that she didn’t support the proposal.
“I am fundamentally concerned with higher wages and opportunities for my neighbors, small businesses and America’s working families,” she said today in a statement. “The trade package will create winners and losers in the global economy and I refuse to allow American workers to be the losers, so I voted no today.”
Castor said that she had reviewed the classified TPP agreement, and was “troubled” that it was centered so much on “promoting powerful special interests rather than American values and jobs.”
“For example, the TPP elevates pharmaceutical company profits over public health when it comes to Medicare, Medicaid and global health concerns,” she said. “American and Florida seafood producers also are rightfully concerned with food safety and unfair economic pressure from questionable imports. Foreign corporations would be allowed to challenge American health and environmental regulations – not through the American legal system, but through unregulated arbitration panels. Any trade agreement should have stronger enforcement and dispute resolution mechanisms.”
As Castor noted, the provisions of the TPP have not been made available for the public to review, leading to major criticism for being opaque. Castor says she had an opportunity to review, and didn’t like what she saw.
In an effort to draw more House Republicans to support the bill, earlier this week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin offered up an amendment to a customs bill that would “ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.” Castor noted that inclusion as an additional poison pill, making it easier for Democrats to oppose.
“House Republicans also added language to the package that will weaken provisions relating to environmental protections, human trafficking, and currency manipulation, and blocked any opportunity to improve the bills,” she said. “At a time when the impacts of the changing climate must be addressed globally, it is especially unconscionable that Republicans added language to specifically prohibit climate change obligations in trade agreements.”
Pinellas County Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly also opposed the bill. He told Florida Politics last month that while he actually he supports the trade bill, he simply had no trust in Barack Obama to enact it properly.