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Drop Everything and Call Your Senators Now: TPA Bill Is in Congress

Drop Everything and Call Your Senators Now: TPA Bill Is in Congress

Author Aisha Yaqoob by

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If you’ve watched the news recently or scrolled down your Twitter feed, chances are you’ve seen people talking about the trade bill in Congress. Why should this matter to you? The future of trade agreements in this country could affect your jobs, your internet freedoms, and the environment. With the Trade Promotion Authority, future trade agreements will be fast tracked through Congress, meaning no critique by the people you elected.

Before I begin, there are three important acronyms you need to know:

1. TPA - Trade Promotion Authority (or Fast Track)

The TPA is the bill that would give the President the authority to negotiate international trade deals. While this may not seem like a big deal, the TPA takes the authority away from Congress and gives it to the executive branch. Congress does get a yes or no vote on the final deal, but would not get the ability to amend the agreements (as they currently do).

Moreover, authority to negotiate trade deals is given to the President through his US Trade Representative (USTR). This is the person who meets with other countries to decide what goes into the international trade deals. With the TPA, Congress gives the USTR a list of negotiating objectives which they feel would make a good trade deal. Right now, the USTR is Michael Froman, a former CitiGroup executive.

2. TAA - Trade Adjustment Assistance

The TAA is a program that provides assistance to people who have lost their jobs due to trade deals. This means that if you lose your job because of the Trans Pacific Partnership, you are entitled to receive some sort of compensation to offset you losing your job.  

3. TPP - Trans Pacific Partnership

The TPP is more likely the acronym you’ve seen floating around. The Trans Pacific Partnership is the 11-country trade deal being negotiated with the Asia Pacific. Think of NAFTA, but for the Pacific Rim. Over 600 multinational corporations have had access to the text and have had the ability to give their input. We don’t know exactly what is in the TPP because the documents have been kept secret from the general public, but we do have a sneak peak thanks to WikiLeaks.

So now that you know what these things mean, let me explain to you why you need to care about them.

President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress are all for the TPA. I find this odd because the GOP Congressman rarely agree with the President on anything. The fact that they are supporting a bill that would give more power to the Obama administration just adds to the fishiness of this whole deal.

This trade battle has gotten messy over the last few weeks. The senate passed a version of the TPA back in May, sending it to the House. In an unscheduled move, the House GOP leadership brought the TPA to a vote on Friday, June 12th. With a sneaky maneuver, the leadership combined the TPA and TAA so that in order to move forward, both would have to pass the House. The TPA did pass on that Friday, but the TAA did not.

In order to pass the TPA, the House scheduled a redo of the TPA vote on Thursday, June 18th. In a 218-208 vote, the House did pass the Trade Promotion Authority bill. With their amended bill, the House has now sent the bill back to the Senate.

What does this mean for us now?

The Senate has to now vote on the amended TPA bill before it gets sent to the President’s desk. Without any new amendments, this is the last chance for our elected representatives to vote on this bill. This means that it is your last chance to call/email your two senators to tell them how you feel about this bill. The Senate will likely vote on this the morning of Wednesday, June 24th.

Why I think I the TPA is a bad bill:

  • As I mentioned previously, the US Trade Representative has to follow certain negotiating objectives when working on our trade deals. There are two issues here:

    • The TPP has been worked on for a number of years already. At this time, we do not know if these negotiating objectives are or will be included in the TPP.

    • The negotiating objectives themselves are also iffy. Here is a full list of the objectives.

  • This bill would be valid until July 1, 2018 which means that President Obama and the next president will have the authority negotiate trade agreements. Moreover, the TPA is set to extend until July 1, 2021 unless Congress passes a resolution specifically saying they do not want to extend it. This means, that President Obama, the next president, and the next president after that (if the next president only serves one term) will have this authority.

  • Multinational corporations have been lobbying for the TPA without most of us knowing. Some of you may have noticed promotional tweets about fair trade paid for by the companies supporting the TPA. In the House, the representatives who voted in favor of the TPA collected 91% more campaign contributions from corporations that back this bill; notice a conflict of interest?

  • Although I think it is important to provide assistance to people whom have lost their jobs, the need for Trade Adjustment Assistance simply proves that jobs WILL be lost if this trade deal happens, and that Congress knows jobs will be lost. This is why some Democrats voted against the TAA.

  • Opponents of this bill are being attacked by the President and their parties. More verbally opposed are the Democrats who have been long supported by, and continue to support, the unions and labor organizations.

I will not go into detail about the Trans Pacific Partnership right now because the details of the trade agreement are still being negotiated. What we know from the released Wikileaks documents is that this deal will benefit the multinational corporations whom have given input into the TPP and heavily backed those who support the TPA.

If the Senate does not pass TPA, this does not limit the opportunities for fair trade agreements. The TPA is simply a vehicle for the “fast tracking” of international trade agreements. By NOT passing this legislation, the President will be able to bring the trade deal to congress, but it will be faced with more scrutiny and feedback from the American people.

Simply put, if you think that Congress, the people’s branch of government, should give away their authority to negotiate international trade agreements to the President, then by all means be on your way. If you think this is a bad idea and that Congress needs the ability to negotiate the TPP and future trade agreements, then please call your senators and ask them to vote NO on the TPA bill.

For those of you who live in Georgia, here is what you can do:

Call BOTH Senator Johnny Isakson ((202) 224-3643) and Senator David Perdue ((202)-224-3521) in their DC offices and ask them to vote no on the TPA. You will likely be speaking to an intern and all you have to say is “Hi, I am a Georgia citizen and I would like the senator to vote NO on the TPA bill.”

For readers from other states, you can find your Senator’s contact information on

Please act soon as the TPA will be up for a majority vote tomorrow morning. If you want to learn more, check out this podcast which explains in detail about the TPP and TPA.

Aisha Yaqoob is a graduate student at the University of Georgia studying Public Administration & Policy.

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