Washington, DC (TFC) – Senator Bernie Sanders today invoked a rarely used Senate rule to pull Finance Committee members out of a scheduled hearing to mock up Fast Track legislation, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), and several other trade bills. Sanders objected to a rule, which allows committees to meet while the Senate is in session. In doing so, the Senate Finance Committee was obliged to postpone the hearing until later in the day.
The Session in progress included a final vote on a bill protecting victims from human trafficking. For this piece of legislation, only a simple 51 vote majority was needed for passage. Thanks to Senator Sanders, the final vote on that S178 was 99 to 0, demonstrating that the Senate can be unanimous. The bill, which McConnell had forestalled five times due to language concerning the abortion of fetuses for victims of rape and abuse. The option to abort these fetuses still remains, but federal tax dollars will not be used to fund them.
Sanders has long argued against FastTrack legislation. On Tuesday, Ron Thumka of the AFL-CIO and Thomas Donahue of the US Chamber of Commerce presented testimony to the Finance Committee regarding the effects on American jobs. Both witnesses maintained infinite familiarity of the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown maintained that he and his staff were unaware of much of the text of the TPP. Sanders maintains the same fears. “Americans should not be forced to compete against desperately poor workers like those in Vietnam who make as little as 56 cents an hour,” Sanders said.
Sanders also objects to the TPP having been written by special interests in secret. In a letter to the US Trade Representative, Sanders raised concerns about the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism, which could allow foreign corporations to use secret international tribunals to seek financial settlements from American localities for passing laws and ordinances that may hinder the profits of these companies. While the new TPA legislation would allow for the full text of the TPP to be on display for two months prior to signing, and the TPA states that any trade agreement would not supercede Federal law.
Senator Brown has submitted a package of Amendments to the TPA that increases funding for workers that lose their jobs due to trade, from $450 Million to $575 Million. The budget increase amendments were voted down 12-14 against. To write in unemployment assistance for those laid off due to trade is to anticipate a net job loss in the US due to the TPP, regardless of the amount set aside for trade assistance.
As of 4:47 Sanders Standard Time, according to Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Senate Finance Committee has reconvened. Opening statements from most Senators were submitted for the record, but not read.