In blow to president and big tech companies, Congress blocks controversial trade deal

In a move sure to rile Silicon Valley companies — though not necessarily area workers — the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday threw a wrench into the effort to pass a wide-ranging new international trade agreement.

In the kind of parliamentary maneuvering that makes the rest of the country detest Congress, the House passed a measure that would grant the president so-called fast-track trade authority. But it rejected a related measure that would have given financial aid to workers who lose their jobs due to the trade agreement. The end result effectively blocks not only the president’s ability to speed trade agreements through Congress but also the trade agreement with Pacific nations that the Obama administration has been negotiating for years in secret with 12 other countries.

The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group representing many companies in the tech industry, decried the House’s actions, saying that the fast-track authority, which gives the president the ability to negotiate trade deals and submit them for a simple up-or-down vote in Congress, was important to U.S. companies that export goods and would promote economic growth.

“We are disappointed by the House’s failure to pass (the fast-track) legislation,” Gary Shapiro, the CEA’s CEO, said in a statement. “We are hopeful the House will reconsider its ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ rejection of (the financial assistance measure) and move quickly toward passage.”

The House’s votes on Friday creates an impasse between it and the Senate, which last month passed a version of the trade legislation that includes both the fast-track authority and the financial aid. In order for the fast-track legislation to go forward, the Senate will either have to pass a version of the fast-track bill without the financial aid attached, which it is unlikely to do, or the House will have to try again to pass the financial aid assistance.

Many Democratic representatives, facing opposition among their constituencies to the trade legislation, intentionally voted against the financial aid package — something they would normally support — in order to block the fast-track bill.

Tech companies including Apple, Cisco, eBay and Microsoft have been lobbying in favor of the fast-track legislation and pushing for the subsequent passage of the trade deal, dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The trade agreement, parts of which have been leaked to the press, but which remains largely secret, would reportedly lower trade barriers between countries, but would also increase protections for intellectual property, including patented drugs and copyrighted movies.

The fast-track legislation has drawn opposition from Republicans who oppose giving such authority to President Obama and from Democrats who want to block the TPP. Opponents of the trade pact have criticized the president for negotiating the deal alongside representatives of some of the nation’s biggest corporations while at the same time refusing to release the text of the agreement to the public at large. Many have charged that passed trade deals have been sold on the idea that the would result in thousands of new jobs only to cost jobs instead.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has helped to lead the charge against the TPP and the fast-track legislation, has warned that the trade agreement could be used to undermine regulation in the United States including rules put in place to limit the effects of another financial crisis. Meanwhile other critics, including some in the tech community, fear the intellectual property provisions in the agreement will harm journalists and whistleblowers by making it a crime to reveal trade secrets, and would undermine consumer rights.

Locally, Democratic representatives Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda voted against both the fast-track and trade-assistance measures. Fellow Democrat Anna Eshoo voted against fast track, but for financial assistance.

File photo by Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT.

 

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  • RegularGuy55

    Anytime big corporations say a trade deal is good for America, I put my hand on my wallet – just for protection.

    If it’s so great, why were the negotiations kept a deep, dark secret?

  • sociopathic

    Good.

    Trade agreements should NOT be in the hands of the Executive branch, but in the hands of the Legislative body.

    The Executive branch is charged with enforcing the laws, as written. And we’ve seen how well that has been carried out (e.g. Chinese Hackers, Immigration, Marijuana, taxation, ACA, etc.)

    The Executive branch does not need nor deserve more authority, not until it can actually do the job set forth before it.

  • Wake Robin

    To suggest that Slicon Valley was all behind this cynical ploy to bury the democratic, regulatory and judicial process in one stroke is insulting to all our intelligence.
    Silicon Valley will best be served by staying far away from the Washinton DC Malignancy pushing old-fashioned Fascism on America and the World.

    • fjrtraveler

      Whether Silicon Valley is “behind this cynical ploy” is irrelevant. They — the wunderkinds like Zuckerberg, Gates, etc. — lobbied hard to get it passed. Why? Obviously to enrich themselves even more through influence and cheap labor, AKA the H-1B scam. They are very old-fashioned. Evil has been around since day one.

 
 
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