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Celebration Day at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? A Debate on Who Benefits from the TPP

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The Senate is expected to vote today to give President Obama “fast-track” trade negotiating authority to speed up new trade deals, including the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The secretive TPP deal involves 12 countries and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60 to 37 to end debate on the measure, setting up today’s final vote. President Obama has made the TPP one of his top priorities in his final term, aligning himself with the Republican leadership despite strong opposition to the deal from some of his traditional allies, including labor unions, environmentalists and consumer groups. In the end, 13 Democrats sided with Republicans to give Obama the fast-track authority. We host a debate between Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, and Bill Watson, trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Senate is expected to vote today to give President Obama fast-track trade-negotiating authority to speed up new trade deals, including the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The secretive TPP deal involves 12 countries and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60 to 37 to end debate on the measure, setting up today’s final vote. President Obama has made the TPP one of his top priorities in his final term, aligning himself with the Republican leadership despite strong opposition to the deal from some of his traditional allies, including labor unions, environmentalists and consumer groups.

AMY GOODMAN: In the end, 13 Democrats sided with Republicans to give Obama the fast-track authority. The 13 Democrats are Michael Bennet of Colorado, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Dianne Feinstein of California, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Five Republicans voted against the fast-track measure, including two presidential candidates: Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The fast-track legislation also covers negotiations over a second trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the vote to move ahead on fast track.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: I also want to just say to our colleagues, this is a very important day for our country. We’ve demonstrated we can work together on a bipartisan basis to achieve something that is extremely important for America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking before the vote, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio warned the American worker would lose out if the TPP deal is signed.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN: People are going to lose their jobs, but we’re going to vote today to cut off debate, and we’re just going to forget, at least temporarily, about helping those workers that lose jobs because of decisions we make? How immoral is that? How shameful is that? What a betrayal of those workers. We are—what a betrayal we are inflicting on those workers if we make this decision today.

A lot of my colleagues are going to go home, and they’re going to face people who say, “Wait, you made a decision. I got thrown out of a job because of a decision you made, because of a decision you made as a House member, because of a decision you made as a senator, because of a decision you made, Mr. President. I was thrown out of work, and you passed on June 23rd”— or whatever today is—”you passed fast track without taking care of me, even though it was your decision that I lose my job.”

AMY GOODMAN: [To debate] the TPP and fast track, we’re joined by two guests in Washington, D.C. Bill Watson is trade policy analyst of the Cato Institute, and Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

Robert Weissman, let’s begin with you. Your response to the vote?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, it’s celebration day at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Big business just won its top priority for this U.S. Congress. If this deal—if the vote today ultimately leads to adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we know, with some high degree of certainty, what’s going to happen. We’re going to lose many more jobs in the United States. We’re going to have real downward pressure on wages and an increase, an ongoing increase, in the huge problem of inequality. We’re going to see huge empowerment for Big Pharma and its ability to charge monopoly prices in all the TPP countries, the developing countries but also in the United States. And we’re going to see the creation and expansion of a special system that gives corporations the right to sue governments directly if those governments take action that the companies say infringe on their expected profits. It is a really horrible day for this country, notwithstanding what Mitch McConnell said.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bill Watson of the Cato Institute, your reaction to the impending, now appears to be, passage of the fast-track legislation?

BILL WATSON: Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing the TPP be completed, find out what’s in the agreement and how well it liberalizes trade between the United States and the other 11 members in the agreement. The reduction of protectionist trade barriers is not going to be bad for the economy. That core element of the TPP is going to be good for consumers. It’s going to be good for U.S. businesses. It’s going to promote economic growth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Bill Watson, is this more—is this agreement more about trade or deregulation?

BILL WATSON: Well, we’ll have to see when it’s finished. There will certainly be a lot of trade in the agreement. And the question is, you know, how well it reduces trade barriers and how quickly. There will also be regulation. A lot of that regulation is stronger labor and environment provisions. It’s also a stronger IP protection and a protection for investors. I think the correct calculus for the TPP is to look at the liberalization as a benefit and then see this regulation, the increase in regulation, as a cost to weigh against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman, how do we know what is in the TPP, the trade agreement?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, we don’t really know much. I mean, we have models to look at. By all accounts, this is really a NAFTA-style agreement and follows the basic pattern that the U.S. has adopted in similar agreements over the last 20 years. But the actual text has been maintained public at the insistence of the U.S. government. Now, a couple of chapters, a couple of portions, of the agreement have leaked through WikiLeaks, so we’re able to see what the negotiating versions have looked like, including in the area of intellectual property, which has to do with patent monopolies for drug companies and copyright extensions and protections for Hollywood and other copyright industries, as well as in the so-called investment agreement, which really has to do with providing corporations special powers to sue governments in ways that are almost unfathomable to regular people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Rob Weissman is president of Public Citizen, and Bill Watson is trade policy analyst with the Cato Institute. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Nina Simone singing “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” After our debate on the TPP, we’ll be joined by Liz Garbus, talking about this remarkable new film, What Happened, Miss Simone? So stay with us for that. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Rob Weissman—you were mentioning before the break the connection to NAFTA in this TPP deal. I’d like you to comment on this issue of the—we’ve had now the last two Democratic presidents—Bill Clinton, who was the guy who pushed through NAFTA, and now Barack Obama here pushing through TPP—basically achieving for corporate America perhaps its most desired legislation through a Congress and basically steamrolling through the Democratic constituency of labor, the environmentalists, who are opposed to these kinds of deals.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, it’s heartbreaking. And in a way, it’s more devastating this time than it was with Bill Clinton. At least the Clinton administration people could say, look, they didn’t have a NAFTA before to look at. But now we have 20 years of experience with NAFTA, and we know a lot about what these trade agreements do. And, you know, I think—by the way, the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to these agreements; it’s not just these constituency organizations. And they’re opposed especially because they understand the impact of NAFTA, because they’ve seen it in their communities, they’ve seen factories close, and they understand how the threat of a factory closing or a job moving overseas diminishes their bargaining power and reduces their wages.

So why this administration would choose to replicate and expand that model is very, very hard to understand. I think it has to do a lot with the people who have surrounded the president, people who come from Wall Street. I think it has a lot to do with the long investment of big business, especially in Washington, D.C., and think tanks and advocacy groups who have created a sense, which is confined to the Beltway, that serious people believe in so-called, but misnamed, free trade, even—and that the people outside of D.C., who overwhelmingly oppose these kinds of agreements, don’t understand because they’re not serious. And I just think that that point of view, unfortunately, was internalized by the president, who spent more political capital, more personal capital on this issue than anything he has done in the administration, with the possible exception of the Affordable Care Act. It is really disappointing and disgraceful.

AMY GOODMAN: This is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, now presidential contender for the Democratic nomination, speaking Tuesday on the Senate floor.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: In my view, this trade agreement will continue the policies of NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, agreements that have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs. We need a new trade policy in America, a policy that represents working families and not just the big money interests. I strongly disagree with the majority leader, who called this a great day for America. It is not a great day. It’s a great day for the big money interests, not a great day for working families.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is [his] opponent for the Democratic nomination, presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, describing what she believes needs to be done in order to reach a deal on the TPP.

HILLARY CLINTON: First, let me start by saying no president would be a tougher negotiator on behalf of American workers, either with our trading partners or Republicans on Capitol Hill, than I would be. In my time, eight years in the Senate, I voted for some trade agreements, and I voted against others. I think I have a pretty good idea of what we can do to meet the tests that I believe any trade agreement, especially TPP, must meet. It needs to, number one, protect American workers. Number two, it needs to raise wages and create good jobs at home. Number three, it needs to be in our national security interest. I’ve been saying that for months.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Well, we’re joined by Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen, and Bill Watson with the Cato Institute. Bill, we hear Bernie Sanders; he’s adamantly opposed to the TPP. But you’re for the TPP. Do you feel Hillary Clinton ultimately would support your position?

BILL WATSON: Well, I can’t speak for Hillary Clinton, at the end of the day. You know, I certainly do think that the TPP, to the extent that it liberalizes trade, is going to increase wages. It’s going to improve the economy of the United States. By opening markets to exports, the TPP will help create jobs. By opening up access to imports, the TPP will help create jobs. Most of the imports that come to this country are used by American manufacturers. It will increase productivity, increase wages and promote growth. So I think that for the criteria that Hillary Clinton sets out, the TPP will most likely be a good deal.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Bill Watson, what about this issue of—that Rob Weissman was mentioning, the ability of corporations to be able to object to particular government regulations in more international dispute methods promoted by TPP?

BILL WATSON: There’s no doubt that the TPP is going to include what’s called investor-state dispute settlement. And there’s a lot of legitimate controversy over exactly how those rules should be shaped. There’s also a lot of hyperbole about, you know, how that’s actually going to affect U.S. regulations. There are a lot of bilateral investment treaties already out there. We haven’t seen the destruction of democracy that people seem to think that’s going to come from this. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of room for reform. And I think, at the end of the day, when you see the TPP and how it addresses the issue of investments, that’s something to weigh against other parts of the agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman, how did what happened on the Senate floor yesterday happen? Explain what’s happened in the House and the Senate, the revolt of the Democrats in the House, led, interestingly, by Nancy Pelosi, a close ally of President Obama, but then the turnaround for a number of Democrats. Who changed? How did it happen?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, fast track has moved through the Congress through an unusually complicated process. It first went through the Senate, where it had to be combined with some other measures to win enough Democratic support. Then it moved to the House, where those measures that had been included in the Senate proved impossible to get passed, and led to the defeat of fast track in a first vote in the House. So then the Republican leadership said, “Well, we’ll strip it out. We’ll just do a straight-up vote on fast track,” and they were able to craft a very, very narrow majority. It came back to the Senate, and the senators who had already voted for fast track with other measures included, the Democratic senators who had voted for fast track with other measures included, most of them—all of them, really, except for with one exception, Ben Cardin in Maryland—decided that they would vote for fast track as a stand-alone measure, even though many of them had said in the first place that their vote for fast track was contingent on inclusion of these other measures, which include a modest program to provide assistance to workers who are laid off as a result of TPP and other trade agreements.

So it’s a really complicated process, but the short version is there was massive opposition to this. That’s what really explains it. So even though the Chamber of Commerce and big business wanted this, and it was at the top of their wish list, even though the president spent more political capital on this than anything, even though the Republican leadership was trying to drive it through, they failed. They failed, first, the first time they tried in the Senate. They failed the first time they tried in the House. But the benefit of being in power and being powerful, like corporate America is, is you get more than one chance. And they kept trying and trying, and eventually they were able to ram the deal through.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rob Weissman, this deal is not just for this particular trade agreement, right? It basically would give the president—not only Obama, but the next president—six years of fast-track authority so that they could also negotiate a Transatlantic deal. So we’re talking about authority to negotiate a deal that hasn’t even begun to be formulated yet.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: That’s right. It would give both President Obama and the next president, whoever he or she is, authority to negotiate—to conclude and negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership; to negotiate and potentially conclude the agreement that is now under negotiation with Europe, the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which includes many of the same measures but other additional problematic measures as the TPP and would give, if concluded as the U.S. wants—as the Obama administration wants, would give 25,000 European subsidiaries the right to challenge our domestic laws; and it would also give the president and the next president authority to negotiate deals that aren’t yet even under consideration. Now, with fast track, all these deals must be still passed by the House and the Senate, but it’s much easier to get them passed than it would be without fast track, and Congress has now given up—or will have, by today, given up its authority to have any meaningful influence over the terms of those negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman and Bill Watson, we want to thank you for being with us. Rob Weissman is president of Public Citizen. Bill Watson is trade policy analyst at the Cato Institute. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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