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Thank you, Rep. Rangel, for protecting our community

The Rev. Stephen H. Phelps and Stephanie Low | 11/14/2013, 4:44 p.m.

With the government shutdown over, Congress can return to the issues that affect our community. Hopefully all can agree that creating good jobs and protecting unions, worker rights, our environment and access to generic prescriptions, especially for seniors and veterans, remain priorities for our elected leaders in Washington.

A massive trade agreement being negotiated—largely in secret—between the United States and 11 other nations threatens these rights and benefits. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), begun under George W. Bush, is the largest trade pact in history, covering 40 percent of the world’s economy, dwarfing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade pacts. Only government trade negotiators, a handful of non-industry representatives and 600 corporate advisors have access to parts of the agreement.

Despite the extreme secrecy, a few chapters have been leaked. Most egregious are the “investor-state” enforcement provisions that give corporations the right to sue a TPP-member nation in special courts over nearly any law, provision or court decision that negatively impacts the corporation’s “future expected profits.” Decisions are final and would supersede any U.S. law, including our Supreme Court, with compensation paid in taxpayer dollars. This is an expanded version of the current “investor-state” provisions in NAFTA and other agreements that have resulted in over $13.3 billion in corporate claims.

The investor-state provisions in the TPP would allow companies to attack common sense safeguards and protections that improve union rights, raise the minimum wage and protect our environment. Other provisions would greatly extend exclusive patents on name-brand drugs, limiting generic prescriptions and affecting everyone, especially seniors and veterans.

We were told that NAFTA would create over 200,000 American jobs each year, yet a recent report from the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute found that America lost more than 680,000 jobs. We were promised 70,000 more jobs under the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement; instead, 40,000 jobs were lost. As it stands now, the TPP would damage our country and community. Fast-tracking it through Congress guarantees that its dangers remain hidden until it is too late.

Supporters of the TPP hope to keep it secret and slide the pact through Congress via a rarely used procedure called “fast track,” which would prevent members of Congress from amending one word, thereby silencing the voice of America’s representatives. But before fast track can be employed, Congress must vote to surrender its constitutional power to “regulate trade with foreign nations” to the executive branch.

We thank Rep. Charlie Rangel for his unequivocal words in promising to vote against a fast track bill when asked by a constituent at the Community Leadership Forum last Aug. 15. Declaring that he believes “in the Constitution … trade is the responsibility of Congress; I will vote no on fast track ... I am for slow track.” His words are inspiring and appear to put our community first.

Many members of Congress have already said a public “no” by cosigning a letter pledging to vote against it, including a bipartisan majority of the New York state congressional delegation, but not Rangel. We need more than words. We want to know that every part of the TPP will be examined and subject to congressional amendment. We want Rangel to also sign a public pledge to vote against fast track.

Trade agreements that are fast-tracked through Congress have led to the outsourcing of American jobs and the slow ravaging of our communities. We don’t need more unfair trade agreements. We need to respect our Constitution and properly negotiate fair trade agreements, just as Rangel’s words promised.