Recently, I was on national TV with host Thom Hartmann, trying to offer some kind of explanation why Congress would even consider committing Constitutional hari-kari under the proposed “Fast Track” legislation. Here’s how it went:
HARTMANN: While President Obama’s is out defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership, members of his own party are making their voices heard over the latest so-called “free trade” deal. A number of progressive lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, are asking for the full text of the TPP to be released, so that Americans can judge for themselves whether it’s a really good deal for America. So is it time to take the secrecy cloak off of the TPP, and make it public, so that “We, the People” can see all of its gory details? Let’s ask Congressman Alan Grayson representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Congressman Grayson, welcome back.
GRAYSON: Thank you, Thom.
HARTMANN: Great to have you with us. First let me play a clip of President Obama on the Chris Matthews show the other day. Check this out:
OBAMA: Everything I do has been focused on, “how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal?” Now, I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class. And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.
HARTMANN: Your reactions and comments?
GRAYSON: The President is wrong. In fact, he is so far off-base that right now, if we had a vote on TPP or on “Fast Track,” his own party would be 10 to 1 against him. It’s a giveaway to corporate America. It’s a giveaway to multinational corporations, millionaires and billionaires. And specifically, it’s the death knell of the middle class in America. The President is so far off-base that it’s ridiculous. And he should have realized that, during his State of the Union Speech. During the State of the Union Speech, about 50 times, Democrats got up and applauded when he was talking about everything else. And then when he was talking about this issue, only Republicans stood up to applaud the President. That would have been some type of tip-off, back in January. And yet here it is [three months later], and the President is singing the same sad song. Let’s face the facts. Since NAFTA, the first of these major, mega-trade deals that went into effect, since NAFTA went into effect, we’ve lost five million manufacturing jobs, and roughly 15 million other jobs. The resulting trade deficit means that we’ve gone $11 trillion into debt. That’s $35,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. What are we going to do, when the Japanese and the Chinese and the other foreign countries say, ‘Okay, now we want our money back’? And we lose twice over. Because what’s been happening in these trade deals, over and over again, is not that they’re buying the same amount of goods from us that we’re buying from them. They’re not buying the same amount of services that we’re buying from them. What’s happening is very simple: We’re putting their people to work by buying their goods and services, and they’re buying our assets, not generating any new employment in this country at all. We lose twice.We lose the jobs, and we’re driven deeper and deeper into debt, to the point where already one-seventh of all the assets in America are foreign owned. And it’s getting worse. It’s getting worse to the tune of one billion dollars a day.
HARTMANN: Wow. Now legislatively what we’re looking at here are actually two different pieces of legislation, which do quite different things. The one most people are familiar with, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I call it the Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement, or SHAFTA. That’s one of the pieces. Okay, the TPP, SHAFTA, what’s in that? But then there’s this thing called “Fast Track,” where Congress votes to give up its own ability to debate and amend legislation. Can you explain the logic of that?
GRAYSON: It’s a constitutional form of hari-kari. What we’re seeing here is unconstitutional violations of the oath of office that we took at the beginning of this term. We have a constitutional duty to look over, to debate, to inquire, to do oversight, to amend. And all that is taken away from us [under Fast Track]. What the President’s asking us, both the Senate and House, to do, is to give up on hearings. No hearings on any of these trade deals. To give up on subcommittee and committee and floor amendments. And to give us each in the House, 88 seconds, – 88 seconds, Thom! – to debate these trade bills before we have to vote them up or down. It’s absurd. We don’t do it for defense matters. We don’t do it for tax matters. We don’t do it for healthcare. We don’t do for anything else except for this. And why is that? Because multinational corporations slip into these trade deals provisions for their own benefit, that would never under any circumstances pass the House or the Senate and be signed into law.
HARTMANN: Wow. Where did Fast Track come from? … I don’t understand the process.
GRAYSON: Well, both the trade deals themselves, and the fast-track procedure to deal with trade deals, are unconstitutional. The trade deals are unconstitutional because they are treaties. And the [proponents] go way out of their way to avoid using the term “treaties.” But what is a treaty? It’s an agreement that you make with another country. By definition, these are treaties. And under the Constitution, they require a two-thirds vote in the Senate. They know they’d never get a two-thirds vote for any of this stuff. It’s hard enough to get 50 percent, plus one. So they call them a “trade agreement” instead of a “treaty,” to avoid the Constitutional provision that goes back 200 years, that requires a two-thirds Senate vote.
In addition to that, we get “Fast Track.” Fast Track is taking away our constitutional prerogatives, which under the Constitution, legislation cannot do. Under the Constitution, the House and Senate set their own rules, by their own discretion, unilaterally. So what this legislation purports to do is tie our hands as an institution, which under the Constitution, we can’t do.
HARTMANN: Now when you start speaking about the Constitution, Congressman Grayson, most of the people who wave that thing around a lot and treat it as holy writ are conservative Republicans. How are they reacting to Fast Track, to setting aside their own constitutional power? I mean they were hysterical about, you know, giving up any power or sovereignty when we joined the UN for example. Where are they on this?
GRAYSON: Well, the first cut for the Republicans is, “what does the Chamber of Commerce want?” And the Chamber of Commerce wants this so, so badly.This is their number-one legislative priority, and it’s been that way for several years. Because they realize this is the way to get what they want, without having to bother with debate, with oversight, with hearings, with mark-ups, with amendments and so on. Just get it all at once, in one nice neat package – everything they want. One of the other things they want is to set up courts outside the U.S. court system, which can result in judgments against not only the federal government, but also state governments, county governments, and municipal governments, which are enforceable judgments. And these judgments can be handed out for arbitration panels that are operated by the United Nations and the World Bank. So we are surrendering our sovereignty to the United Nations and the World Bank.You can bet that some of the Tea Party fanatics have picked up on this already, and some of the Republicans are starting to feel the heat. What I’m hearing from the other side – and I talk to them quite frequently – is that there’s already roughly 60 [GOP] votes in the House against this, because they realize that we are giving away our hard-fought, hard-won sovereignty, in exchange for nothing.
HARTMANN: Wow. In the last half a minute or so here, Congressman, how do you see this playing out?
GRAYSON: I think that the Senate may or may not vote in favor of it. I’m pretty sure the leaders in House will never let it come to a vote, because Boehner has been telling Democrats that if there aren’t 50 Democrats in favor of it, then he’s not going to bring it to the Floor. Right now, they’d be hard-pressed to come up with 15 Democrats in favor of it, much less 50. So it may never come to a vote in the House, just like it didn’t last term. And if it does come to a vote, there’s a very good chance that it will be defeated, as it should be. This is nonsense. Let’s try to solve our trade deficit problem, and instead of figuring out creative ways to add to it, and dig a deeper and deeper hole for ourselves.
HARTMANN: Amen. Congressman Alan Grayson. Great to have you with us. Thank you for dropping by.
GRAYSON: Thank you, Thom.
If we want to defeat this “death knell for the middle class,” then we have to fight back, and fight back now, before it’s too late. To see the video, or to support our “Truth in Trade” campaign, click right here.
Rep. Alan Grayson