White House Relying On Paul Ryan To Remove Anti-Slavery Text From TPP Fast Track, Pass It In House
According to a report in the Huffington Post on Wednesday, the White House is relying on Republican House Rep. Paul Ryan to remove a controversial anti-human trafficking amendment from the “fast track” bill for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest free trade agreement ever. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez’s anti-human trafficking amendment, tacked onto fast track approval in a Senate vote on Friday, would effectively cut Malaysia out of the TPP. Malaysia would be barred from the agreement because of the State Department’s recognition that it has failed to address the roughly two million undocumented laborers, many of whom are essentially slaves or forced prostitutes, unable to pay off debts, leave their jobs or leave Malaysia. The amendment created a legislative pickle, since Obama was seeking fast track authority, but refuses to allow Malaysia to be removed from the TPP, and is thus in the position of having to remove anti-slavery language from the fast track bill.
Obama is reportedly relying on Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Koch-picked 2012 VP nominee, in his capacity as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to do a little legislative sleight of hand by passing the fast track bill as is, then passing a customs enforcement bill which would water down the anti-human trafficking amendment dramatically. The Huffington Post quoted a source,
“The weaker Menendez language would give a tier 3 trafficking country an out if the secretary of state sends Finance and Ways and Means [committees] a public letter spelling out the concrete actions a tier 3 country is taking to comply with the recommendations outlined by state in the trafficking report,” said one congressional source close to the negotiations.
Those “concrete actions” wouldn’t have to lead to any actual or tangible progress.
This would mean the difference between the US government saying, ‘we can’t trade with Malaysia, because they have hundreds of thousands of slaves and they’re not doing anything about it,’ and saying, ‘we trade with Malaysia even though they have hundreds of thousands of slaves, because these are things they could do about it.’ This is the difference between punishing and rewarding Malaysia for using slaves; the difference between protecting American workers and forcing them to compete for work and wages with Malaysian slaves.
This legislative maneuver, the White House and Republican Congressional leaders hope, will entice enough House Democrats, who are vastly opposed to fast track, to vote for the legislation. Politico reports,
Obama is hoping to round up 25 to 30 House Democrats to support fast track, along with the 180 to 190 Republicans who are expected to vote yes, to push the measure over the top. While Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is confidently predicting the votes will be there, others are doubtful.
So, to recap, the White House is teaming up with the majority of Republicans in Congress, led by one of the most aggressively conservative leaders, especially on economic issues, to neutralize an anti-slavery provision and whip a tiny minority of Democrats to support the bill. The White House joins Republicans, Wall Street, hundreds of corporate lobbyists, conservative groups and leaders of countries where our jobs typically go in a fight with Democrats, the liberal groups that support them, human rights and environmental groups, and labor unions. The White House and Republicans join forces to pass this massive trade deal, the details of which are held as top secret, making it illegal to share them.
Let me clearly state how this information is derived. For weeks, three serious reporters with extensive journalistic experience covering Washington and Congress–Ryan Grim, Laura Barron-Lopez, and Zach Carter–have been covering the story of Washington’s TPP war for the Huffington Post. The report I wrote yesterday focusing on Malaysia’s horrific slavery conditions and the TPP fight between Obama and Menendez relied on the facts in their report on a Senate vote on Friday. The words “slavery” and “human trafficking” used in their report and subsequently in mine, quoted the language used by the US State Department, the Menendez amendment, human rights groups, and the facts on the ground in Malaysia. There is nothing hyperbolic about the word “slavery” in this case. And it is no exaggeration that President Obama opposed the amendment which would block Malaysia’s inclusion in the TPP because of its reliance on slave labor, effectively defending slavery in Malaysia.
The above information in this article about Obama relying on Ryan to remove the anti-slavery amendment and whip Democratic votes in the House relies on Grim’s and Barron-Lopez’s reporting,
The House, according to sources familiar with trade deal negotiations, plans to strip Senate language from fast-track legislation that would ban countries that are the worst human-trafficking and forced-labor offenders from being part of big trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The provision will be removed by House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) through a customs bill that will come to the floor after the fast-track bill, sources familiar with the planning told The Huffington Post.
I clarify this, because there seems to be a streak of denialism on the pro-Obama left that says that basic facts that hurt Obama’s image inherently can’t be true. This is understandable, as he remains popular in Democratic circles, but it is also highly problematic. The TPP is secretive by design, it is supported by Republicans and the 1% who support them, and by the White House. Why this truly is, I don’t know. But White House marketing that the TPP is going to be “the most progressive trade agreement the world has ever seen” is dangerous nonsense. This would be akin to the White House and Republicans huddling secretly with Wall Street to hash out banking CEO bonuses for ‘the most progressive credit default swaps the world has ever seen.’ It is chilling to see the White House’s PR machine trained on its liberal base, but that is our current reality.
Free trade, by design, is not progressive. It’s only “liberal” in the sense of neoliberalism, the sense of naked corporate imperialism. The fact that the president is a ‘liberal’ or a ‘progressive’ is meaningless on this particular issue when he is in cahoots with massive corporations and their Republican puppets to expand the neoliberal super-order so that it can screw tens of millions of people until they bleed money. Obama’s charisma and prior achievements supported by Democrats and liberal groups don’t make free trade magically progressive. Paul Ryan’s reported plan to integrate Malaysia in the agreement despite its record of slavery, and without any meaningful consequences, proves this. A true progressive economic agenda would push to create jobs here in America by investing a trillion dollars over 20 years to upgrade our nation’s woefully outdated infrastructure, and investing in a real sustainable energy industry manufactured in America, paid for by taxing large financial transactions, for basic starters.
This situation is similar to Bill Clinton passing the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. After more than two decades, it’s clear that NAFTA was a boon for large corporations and a disaster for the American worker. But how could that be? Bill Clinton was a liberal president, and gosh darn it, people liked him! Wouldn’t it be nice, now, if, 22 years ago, we had fought Bill Clinton with everything we had to stop him from passing NAFTA?
I don’t care who is in the White House. It’s irrelevant that I still like and respect the president, and still consider voting for him twice to have been the lesser of evils both times. This is isn’t about left and right. It’s about oligarchy vs. democracy, transparency and labor rights. We The People should be shaking Washington over the TPP, and the blatant corruption pushing it. Organized labor, and the Democratic party, which mostly opposes it, should be supported in their opposition. Future presidents should be put on notice that our jobs can’t be sold without a fight from a loud, influential progressive bloc. Consider the liberals of the 1960s who didn’t toe the White House line when Lyndon Johnson ramped up the war in Vietnam. They marched to the cry of “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” We should be marching to the cry of, “Hey, hey, Obama, how many jobs will go abroad?”
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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.