Several Senate Democrats voiced opposition today to legislation that would allow a quick up-or-down vote with limited debate on proposed trade deals. They said a fast-track bill introduced last week in its current form would hurt workers and put U.S. businesses at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to competing with other nations.
Speaking during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, lawmakers and a top union official said more needs to be done to create a fair trade process that helps both hard-working Americans and companies in this nation succeed. Doing so, however, means either scrapping or significantly altering the fast-track measure so that other nations don’t gain at the expense of the U.S.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said it would be foolish for Congress to delegate its authority on trade measures by approving fast track. He also said this country needs to ensure that U.S. companies and their workers who play by the rules aren’t punished by corrupt governments overseas who allow others to cheat the system.
“America has strong standards. I raise the issue because we need to do a better job on good governance,” he said. “I would like to see support from the business community to fight on behalf of American companies. Let’s be bold.”
One of those issues is formulating a consistent trade policy that would benefit this country. Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) said the U.S. shouldn’t punt on provisions that help workers and ensure safer food and products in this country just to get deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) done.
“We get the short-end of the stick, or our workers do, because the United States doesn’t have a trade policy. It is an area of national focus where we deal with the rest of the world,” he said. “It is a real failing.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), meanwhile, took aim at trade provisions that would allow foreign companies to sue governments for putting in place consumer protection regulations that could be seen as limiting sales. He noted tobacco companies recently went after an Australian law meant to curb smoking and is now suing the country for damages.
“Do we want this kind of power, that a company can go into another country and sue them?” the senator asked. “Are those provisions we want?”
Meanwhile, several senators – Democrats and Republicans – raised concerns about currency manipulation, where a country devaluates its money in order to encourage other nations to buy its products. They worried that not enough is being done to stop the practice that has led to the U.S. running up a $1 trillion trade deficit worldwide.
Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said steps need to be taken to stop such losses. “No other nation has a trade deficit like this,” he said, adding it leads to job losses and a souring economy that hurts all Americans.