For the second time in a week, Rep. Jim Himes voted in favor of giving President Obama unfettered fast-track authority to negotiate a controversial trade deal with 11 Pacific rim trading partners – the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
And again for the second time in a week, the House voted to approve the measure 218-208 in what amounts to a delicate, well-orchestrated minuet to rescue the trade deal from a near-certain death spiral.
As was the case last Friday, Himes joined 27 other Democrats in supporting fast track against the majority of Democrats. Fast track “will allow our negotiators to craft the best possible deal they can get on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and will ensure that the American public has access to the deal for months before Congress votes on it,’’ Himes said. Under fast track, the White House can negotiate the trade deal and Congress can only approve or disapprove it with no amendments.
Progressives and trade unions argue that fast track and TPP would give a green light to further reduce trade barriers and facilitate the export of U.S. jobs to other countries with lower wages, weak labor laws and few environmental restrictions.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership “will be bad for trade, bad for American jobs, bad for human rights, bad for food and health, and certainly bad for the environment, but at least superb for corporate profits,’’ said Martin Mador, Sierra Club legislative and political chair in Connecticut. “We wish (Himes) had joined his four Connecticut colleagues who voted against it.’’ The four are Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty, Joe Courtney and John Larson.
“Congressman Himes is a good person, but he hurt workers in his district and ultimately around the world with his vote today,’’ said John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists. “If fast track becomes law, it will have terrible consequences for working people. We will see what the consequences are for Mr. Himes.’’
Whether fast-track legislation emerges intact now depends on whether Congress can also approve so-called Trade Adjustment Assistance, a six-year extension of funds to help workers whose jobs are lost to trade deals.
Although they voted against it last week as a tactical maneuver to scuttle fast track, the majority of Democrats support TAA. Republicans, however, consider it wasteful government spending. A considerable amount of arm-twisting will have to take place in order for the entire package to land on President Obama’s desk for signature.
Himes, for his part, believes the trade deal’s good outweighs its bad. “I believe it has the possibility to increase exports and create jobs here at home, and raise labor and environmental standards abroad while helping to lift millions of people out of poverty,’’ he said.