A few weeks ago, the Commonwealth’s two senators, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFive Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future MORE (D) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Senate advances defense bill after delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senators to take up defense bill Wednesday MORE (D), voted to give President Obama “Trade Promotion Authority” (TPA).  This will allow the president to approve trade agreements without Constitutionally mandated Congressional review and oversight. Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have unprecedented reach, involving 12 countries, and accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world’s GDP. Leaked sections of the TPP have exposed how the agreement will place powerful limits on the ability of sovereign nations, including the Unites States, to protect our wages, defend the environment, and hurt the rights of consumers around the world to access affordable medications--including senior citizens here in Virginia, as well as the very poorest patients in the most impoverished countries. Trade agreements like the TPP extend to every industry, from textiles to dairy, ship building to fisheries, and allow corporations to bring cases to secret international courts empowered to change national and local rules on everything from protection from toxic pollution to access to essential medicines.

As future physicians and Virginia voters, we are particularly concerned about how fast-track and the TPP will affect access to essential medicines. The TPP actually requires United States negotiators to supercede international agreements that allow countries to produce generic medicines in case of emergencies, such as deadly Ebola outbreaks, or when 30 percent HIV infection rates that threaten a nation’s continued existence.  The TPA pushes U.S. trade negotiators to take away the rights U.S. officials used to accelerate drug manufacture when anthrax attacks on Senate offices were threatening policy makers in the wake of September 11. The TPP’s impact on access to essential medicines is alarming and extensive. Leaked texts reveal language that would “evergreen” and extend patents without just cause, enhance the monopoly rights of drug companies, and establish precedent-setting limits on generic medications that impact not just TPP countries, but the region as a whole. These restrictions on life-saving affordable medications in the developing world also threaten access to medications here in the U.S.

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The only drop of honey to sweeten the bitter pill of the TPA was the inclusion of Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA. This measure offers some modest assistance to workers like job retraining when they are inevitably displaced by new trade agreements. In a stark display of perfidy against patients and workers around the world, 190 Republicans and 28 Democrats in the House narrowly voted to send fast-track back to the Senate for a re-vote, stripped of even the small protections in the TAA that our senators intended as a safeguard.  

Some in Congress are promising to attach the TAA to other trade bills and send them off to the House next week--the same House of Representatives that voted overwhelmingly against TAA just two weeks ago. There is absolutely no guarantee that the 85 House members will somehow have a change of heart. The deal balancing fast-track with worker assistance that Warner and Kaine voted for has been broken by the House, and we must not stake the well-being of Virginians and the far-flung implications of global trade deals on vague hopes that scores of House members will change their minds someday.

The Commonwealth’s senators this week have the opportunity to clarify for Virginians whether they are choosing opportunity for all, or if they will continue to vote to pull up the ladder and deny an equal chance for patients and workers here and around the world. Will they to give away the Constitutional responsibility of Congress to regulate trade negotiations, and while also sacrificing even TAA’s meager protections for workers? Can we hope that our senators, outspoken promoters of new horizons for American workers and frequent supporters of global AIDS programs, will make the right choice when the vote comes up this week? Or will they vote to overlook the TPP’s egregious documented threats to human and worker rights, environmental protections, and threats to public health? We hope that Warner and Kaine will see the error of previous votes for the TPA--especially in light of the bill now returning to the Senate without the protection for workers that both senators wanted as a condition of their previous support. Let’s make the right choice this time around.

Jayaweera, McGonigle and Newcomb are medical students. Case is a doctor and Education and Advocacy fellow. All belong to the American Medical Student Association AIDS Advocacy Network.