Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio
Most of San Antonio’s delegation to the House of Representatives voted against a measure today that would have cleared the way for the Obama administration to unilaterally negotiate a massive trade deal.
Most Democrats and many Republicans voted against a bill to approve Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to aid workers who lose their jobs because of free trade agreement policies.
Congress must approve TAA in order to send the Trade Promotion Authority bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama would use the authority, also known as “fast track,” to negotiate a massive trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership with little input from Congress.
The TPP is a 12-country trade agreement. If Congress grants “fast track” authority, it couldn’t weigh in on the particulars of the deal, only an up-or-down vote once the agreement was completed.
Obama claims that “fast track” authority is essential to get the deal done. He’s often said that while no agreement is perfect, it’s vital that the U.S. help “write the rules” on global trade, rather than have them dictated by other nations.
It’s the rare instance in which the president has more in common with Republicans than his fellow Democrats, many of whom harbor deep concerns over losing jobs overseas and striking deals with countries who have spotty labor records.
The Senate already voted to give the president “fast track” authority. It did so with many caveats, including mandatory regulations on environment and labor conditions.
But even with those conditions, most members of the House were not swayed. Even an eleventh-hour plea from the president himself, who pitched the deal this morning at a meeting of House Democrats, couldn't sway most of his own party.
“We have to slow down,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Whatever the deal is with other countries, we want a better deal for America’s workers.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar was the lone South Texas lawmaker to support the deal. Republican Reps. Lamar Smith, Blake Farenthold, and Will Hurd opposed it, as did Democrats Joaquin Castro, Filemon Vela, Ruben Hinojosa, and Lloyd Doggett.
Doggett wrote a letter to his House colleagues on June 8 to express his concerns over the potential trade deal’s labor and environmental provisions.
“As elected officials concerned about...creating a global economy that builds shared prosperity and sustainable environmental practices, we cannot accept that vague promises will achieve a high standard without an effective means to trigger enforcement of our trade agreements,” Doggett said in the letter.