A Bernie Sanders Talking Filibuster Could Help Stop the Fast Track to Greater Inequality

06/22/2015 05:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Congressional approval or rejection of Fast Track authority to negotiate inequality-increasing corporate rule trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership now hangs significantly on the actions of thirteen Democratic Senators: Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.) All thirteen voted for Fast Track in May, when it was coupled with Trade Adjustment Assistance. They now face the question of voting yes or no on standalone Fast Track, with questionable assurance from Republican leaders that this will somehow be combined with Trade Adjustment Assistance in the future. If three of these thirteen Democratic Senators now defect from the Wall Street team to stand with the opinions of the super-majority of Democratic voters, the super-majority of House Democrats, and Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley against Fast Track, Fast Track will be defeated.

It would be very healthy for the Republic right now if Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would lead a "talking filibuster" of Fast Track. It would be a great public service if Senator Sanders would hold the Senate floor as long as he can physically endure, leading a national town hall on everything that is wrong with our current undemocratic, secretive, corporate-driven, inequality-increasing, wage-lowering, manufacturing job-destroying, climate chaos-enhancing, patented drug price-raising trade policies. It would be an act of exemplary patriotism if at fifteen-minute intervals during his speech, Sanders would urge Americans to call their Senators, pressing them to vote NO on Fast Track until the phone lines melt in the U.S. Capitol.

The dirty secret of the Fast Track debate is this: the urgency of getting Congress to approve Fast Track now, from the point of view of Fast Track's supporters, is to get it out of the way before the 2016 presidential campaign captures the full attention of the broad public. The Fast Track corporate managed trade agenda and the 2016 presidential campaign are in fundamental tension. If extreme inequality of wealth, income, and political power is a defining issue of the 2016 presidential race, that is a toxic political environment for Fast Track supporters, because increasing the already extreme inequality of wealth, income, and political power isn't a mere side effect of corporate-managed trade policy, it's the goal. The goal of corporate-managed trade policy is to transfer wealth, income, and political power from the many who already have too little to the few who already have far too much.

When Congress was considering a taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banker-gamblers in 2008, Time reported:

"As the deal was being worked out last week, congressional offices were reporting that constituent phone calls were running 100 to 1 against the measure"

When Congress was considering an authorization of military force against the government of Syria in 2013, Congressman Alan Grayson reported:

"There are now both Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have reported that their emails and letters and phone calls to their office are running more than a hundred to one against this."

These are the kind of news stories that Senator Sanders should seek to help generate by holding the Senate floor against the Fast Track to greater inequality as long as he can physically endure.

When Rand Paul led a talking filibuster of the NSA's Constitution-free blanket surveillance, civil liberties defenders were mobilized. When Rand Paul led a talking filibuster of the CIA nomination of John Brennan to protest the Constitution-free government assassination of US citizens with drone strikes, his enraged supporters swarmed other Senators until they went to the floor to support the filibuster.

This is the kind of citizen mobilization that Senator Senators should seek to help unleash by holding the Senate floor against Fast Track as long as he can physically endure.

Bernie Sanders says we need a mass movement to win the changes in government policy that we seek. He's right. But leadership matters: people respond to signals. If you think this would be a great time for Senator Sanders to put his Bat Signal in the sky, you can tell him so here.