In what is being seen by some as a major victory for US President Obama, the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday voted 60-38 for legislation granting the president fast-track authority to complete trade deals, according to a story on National Public Radio (NPR).
Such authority means that trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently being negotiated away from the public eye, mainly by corporate representatives, will be fast tracked through Congress, which will be allowed to vote yes or no to the deal but not to offer amendments.
The TPP and other trade agreements often include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, which have been condemned by some politicians as anything from a charter for big corporations to rip off taxpayers to an attack on democracy. The Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, writing in The Hill, said the US should not be signing trade agreements that could be used as a basis for action to prevent democratically passed public health laws from taking effect.
And the US democrat, Elizabeth Warren, described ISDS as an obscure process that allowed big companies to go to corporate-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside any court system in order to challenge laws they don’t like. These panels, she said, could force taxpayers to write huge checks to big corporations without those corporations having to file suits in court, and with no chance of an appeal or judicial review.
Meanwhile, the NPR reported that, on the same day that the Senate passed the fast-track legislation, it approved also Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation, which is aimed at helping displaced workers.
The TAA legislation had been backed strongly by the White House and Democrats and was expected to clear the House of Representatives.
Earlier this month, House Democrats defeated the TAA legislation in an attempt to derail fast track authority.