President Obama is asking for “fast track” authority to let the White House be the sole negotiator on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a giant twelve-nation trade agreement between the U.S. and Pacific Rim nations. Fast track passed the Senate in May, and could come up for a House vote as early as this week.
Trouble is, the provisions are secret, and the Obama administration won’t tell Congress or the people what’s in it. But thanks to a few chapters released by Wikileaks online last year, we already know it’s a disaster for U.S. workers — especially women.
According to the Washington Post, around 600 corporations and a couple of labor unions have seen a draft. A few members of Congress have seen parts of it in a “secure soundproof reading room,” where cell phones and note-taking are not allowed. The majority of Congress members and the public have not, and those members who have been given that extremely limited access are forbidden to discuss it with the public.
The so-called partnership is an insult to all U.S. workers, with many provisions that will hurt women the most. The Communications Workers of America says it will steal majority-female jobs from low wage workplaces like call centers, as well as higher wage sectors such as human resources. And according to Doctors Without Borders, the agreement may well cut off access to generic drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS — now predominately women and kids.
At the same time supporters in the Senate were beating their chests when they passed fast track for TPP claiming it will create jobs, they also passed a companion measure called the TAA –Trade Adjustment Assistance. And what would that do? Give assistance to U.S. workers displaced by free trade agreements. Huh? Didn’t they say the TPP would create jobs? Yeah, but they forgot to mention those much touted new jobs will be in low wage countries paying pennies per hour.
And then there’s the collateral damage. The TAA will be paid for by benefit cuts in Medicare, a program women depend on more than men do. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts will amount to $700 million. So add health care providers to the list of those against this rotten deal.
The final insult? Under rules, businesses incorporated in Trans Pacific Partnership countries would be guaranteed equal treatment with U.S. firms when bidding on government contracts. That means our tax dollars would be underwriting countries like Brunei, which imprisons unmarried women for getting pregnant and allows stoning of gays and lesbians.
If the President and Congress really want to help U.S. workers, why not start with something guaranteed to work quickly right here at home – like a higher minimum wage. But the Trans Pacific Partnership? Throw it overboard.
Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.