Why We Need to Defeat the Trade Bills

Demonstrators gather in the Dirksen Senate Office Building before a silent protest against 'Flood Congress: Opponets of Fast
Demonstrators gather in the Dirksen Senate Office Building before a silent protest against 'Flood Congress: Opponets of Fast Track Trade Authority on March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a critical week in Congress, with the Senate and likely the House poised to take up Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a bill to provide "fast track" authority -- not just to the current President but to whomever next sits in the White House.

I am convinced that we have the votes in the House to block this ill-advised legislation -- and I am convinced that we will have the votes whenever this bill is brought to the floor. In fact, the more we learn about what is in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- which is not easy to do, since the negotiations are "top secret" -- the more the opposition grows. The impacts are too great to give away our ability to offer amendments and, instead, be faced only with a "thumbs-up/thumbs-down" choice.

I've spoken with many of my colleagues, and I know that they have the same concerns as my constituents and representatives of consumer, health, environmental, labor, faith-based and other organizations. We believe that the consequences of ramming through agreements like the TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and future trade deals would be enormous and they would be disastrous.

This is not our parents' trade bill. It is not about providing fair trade -- which we all support. In fact, if it were about fair trade, it would include essential provisions to prevent currency manipulation.

Fast track is about pushing through the TPP, TTIP and future trade agreements that would massively increase the power of big international corporations and affect the daily lives of Americans. In Illinois, we've seen job losses from agreements like CAFTA and NAFTA. Those agreements didn't help American workers -- and they haven't brought improvements to the lives of workers in other countries, either.

The impacts go beyond job loss -- as serious as that is. While trade agreements are negotiated in secrecy, behind-closed doors, we have learned enough from leaks to know that the result of passing TPA to "fast track" these trade agreements would affect everything from food safety to environmental protection to consumer financial protections.

An Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism would allow foreign corporations to sue whenever they claim the value of their investments are affected by the actions of governments -- including actions taken by local, state and federal governments right here in the United States. Those suits would not be handled through the normal judicial process but in a specially-constructed legal forum staffed by international trade lawyers -- from which there is no appeal.

Tobacco companies could sue to stop warning labels on cigarettes, chemical companies could sue to prevent states from banning the use of their products on environmental and public health grounds, and cattle companies could sue to block bans on beef products due to concerns about bovine disease. These are not hypotheticals -- each of those suits was actually brought.

Even if the companies don't win, ISDS requires that the U.S. government would have to pay high legal fees -- and even the threat of legal action could have a chilling effect.

The ISDS is one of several mechanisms that could result in higher prescription drug prices, here and abroad, a likelihood that has drawn concern from groups from AARP to Oxfam. Those provisions would block competition and prevent generics from entering the market, making life-saving medicines even more expensive and making the "brand name" pharmaceutical corporations -- already one of the world's most profitable -- even more money.

Neither the Investor State Dispute Resolution provision nor the prescription drug provisions are in these trade bills because of the insistence of other countries. They are being included in the bill because of the demands of huge corporations right here in the United States.

These trade agreements are massive and broad-ranging. That is why my colleagues and I believe that fast-track authority denying us the right to offer amendments to them is the absolutely wrong way to go. And that is why I am confident that fast-track authority will be defeated this week.