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Larsen backs Fast Track; but will he fight slavery, Medicare cuts?

The Stand

larsen-rick(May 28, 2015) — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2nd) issued a press statement Wednesday announcing his support for granting Trade Promotion Authority, also known as “Fast Track,” for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and subsequent trade agreements. The congressman did so despite strong opposition to Fast Track/TPP from a broad coalition of labor, environmental and community groups in Washington, the Washington State Democrats and the majority of Democrats in Congress, the City of Bellingham in his district, and strong public opposition in Washington state and across the country.

Congress is currently voting on whether to grant President Barack Obama and his White House successor Fast Track authority to negotiate the TPP and other trade agreements, which would restrict debate and forbid amendments on the deals, allowing only an up-or-down vote. Fast Track narrowly passed the Senate last week, but the legislation will face a tougher test in the House in June.

Larsen’s statement says he “intends to vote for the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 because of the critical role trade plays in creating jobs and growing the economy in the Second Congressional District and Washington state.”

But Larsen’s statement doesn’t settle the issue, given new revelations about the version of the Fast Track bill that was rushed through the Senate last week. It turns out that the bill includes a proposal by our own Rep. David Reichert (R-8th) to cut Medicare to pay for assistance for American workers whose jobs are offshored due to trade policies. It also accidentally included strong anti-slavery language that the White House wants removed so Malaysia isn’t excluded from the TPP.

So Larsen’s statement raises an important question, does he support Fast Track no matter what?

Even if it cuts Medicare to pay for the damage TPP inflicts on American workers? Even if it is amended to permit slavery to continue in Malaysia? Even if it ignores currency manipulation by our trading partners to make American workers and businesses less competitive? Even if it establishes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process that allows corporations to sue the U.S. via an international tribunal for “loss of profit” caused by federal, state or city laws?

medicare-cutsCUTTING MEDICARE — At the insistence of Senate Democrats, the Fast Track bill included an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides unemployment and job-training benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of these trade deals when manufacturing/production is shifted overseas.

On April 16, a Senate bill to reauthorize the TAA was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). A day later, Rep. Reichert introduced his House “companion” version, but it included an important difference. Unlike Collins’ version, Reichert proposed covering some of the $2.7-billion cost of the TAA extension by cutting $700 million out of future doctor and hospital reimbursements for Medicare.

Reichert’s idea was subsequently included in the Fast Track bill that passed the Senate last Friday. (Fair trade and Medicare activists will be protesting today outside a Seattle luncheon hosted by TPP supporters where Reichert is scheduled to speak.) These Medicare cuts — buried in the Fast Track bill and largely unreported in the media — would have to be removed by the House to be avoided.

Will Rep. Larsen insist on that change before he votes to approve Fast Track? Or will he just accept those cuts as another cost of promoting “free trade”?

slavery-malaysiaSLAVERY IN MALAYSIA — In what Huffington Port described as”an impressive display of dysfunction,” the Senate-approved Fast Track bill includes an amendment by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) with strong language that bars countries that engage in slavery from being part of major trade deals with the United States. That language would prevent Malaysia, a notorious hub for slavery and human trafficking, from signing the TPP.

So, naturally, President Obama wants it removed.

At the insistence of the White House, Menendez agreed to modify his language to say that as long as a country is taking “concrete” steps toward reducing human trafficking and forced labor, it can be part of a trade deal. But as Huffington Post reported:

Because the Senate is the Senate, it was unable to swap out the original language for the modification. (The chamber needed unanimous consent to make the legislative move, and an unknown senator or senators objected.) So the trade promotion authority bill that passed Friday includes the strong anti-slavery language, which the House will now work to take out to ensure that Malaysia (and, potentially, other countries in the future) can be part of the deal.

So, will Rep. Larsen fight to keep strong anti-slavery language in the Fast Track bill? Or will he accept weaker language that allows slavery and human trafficking to continue in Malaysia and other nations as yet another cost of promoting “free trade”?

If you live in the Second Congressional District, perhaps you should ask him some of these tough questions. Call Rep. Larsen’s Washington, D.C. office at 202-225-2605 or his Everett office at 425-252-3188, or send him an email.

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