Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Will Trade Policy Become A Campaign Issue?


Obama and congressional Republicans barely ever find any common ground. But last week they sure did when it came to making a deal for Trans-Pacific Partnership Fast Track authority. Just the way Bill Clinton delivered NAFTA for Wall Street, Obama is determined to give them the TPP. Progressives are dismayed.
Trade unions, populist activists and many Democratic lawmakers are rallying against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. They say the secretive treaty is harmful to US workers, the economy and environmental policies.

Social justice activists from more than 30 states marched in downtown Washington, DC, on Monday, chanting “This is what hypocrisy looks like!” and carrying signs such as “Dump TPP: Don’t trade away our future.” They called on Congress to vote against giving President Barack Obama the authority to 'fast-track' the treaty.

...[M]uch of the trade pact was written by and for corporate lobbyists, who would reap any benefits while leaving the workers and taxpayers to shoulder all the expenses. Only five of TPP’s 29 chapters are about trade, while others focus on patent protection, financial deregulation, internet privacy restrictions and litigation.

“It is absurd that a trade agreement of such enormous consequence has had so little transparency,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and keynote speaker at Monday’s protest. He also warned that the TPP would give foreign corporations the right to challenge US laws in special courts, endangering public health and environmental initiatives.

...It isn’t just the unions and independents bucking the White House lead on the TPP. Last week, top Democratic lawmakers spoke out against the trade pact at a protest outside the Capitol.

“We’ve had, I hate to say this, a sellout government,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the TPP a “huge shift from democratically elected governments to corporations all over the world.” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) described it as "the bad sequel of bad sequels, the ‘Sharknado 2’ of trade.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a populist favorite, pumped her fist and shouted, “No more secret trade deals!”
Congresswoman Donna Edwards is running for the open Maryland Senate seat. (Blue America has endorsed her.) She has been a consistent opponent of unfair trade policies and she has been a loud, clear voice in opposition to both Fast Track and the TPP. This week, she sent this note to her supporters:
A bill just introduced in the Senate would give the President “fast track” trade authority to push through a disastrous trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will ship American jobs overseas with little to no public debate.

I’ve seen enough of these “free trade” deals to know how this goes.

Giant, multinational corporations write the bill with their best interests in mind, and then try to sell the public pipe dreams of jobs and economic growth that never materialize.

I’m going to fight tooth and nail to stop this bill, but I need your help. Will you stand with me against this deal and say no to fast track and the TPP? If progressives stand up and show we are willing to fight for American workers, we can stop this anti-worker bill in its tracks.

...We’ve seen this story before. “Free trade” deals that promise to grow our economy and create jobs end up making big corporations richer, while American jobs disappear.

Even worse, this bill was written in secret, away from the eyes of the public and Congress.

I know a bad deal for workers when I see it. That’s why I’ve fought to stop these job-killing agreements every time they come up in Congress.
Blue America has made two Senate endorsements so far-- Alan Grayson and Donna Edwards-- and both have been stalwart fighters against the TPP and against Fast Track. We need more like them in the Senate.The contrast between Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen on trade is clear and undeniable. She's an advocate for working families and he stands up for multinational companies. Yesterday's Baltimore Sun spotlighted the differences.
Hitting on an issue that is closely followed by the state's politically powerful unions, the Edwards campaign criticized Rep. Chris Van Hollen for his past votes in favor of trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama-- deals that were all opposed by Edwards and a majority of House Democrats.

Edwards' decision to criticize Van Hollen's record on the issue underscores the effort she is making to run to the left of the Montgomery County Democrat, who has managed to secure more endorsements and campaign cash in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The agreements, which set policies on tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers, are generally opposed by liberal groups.

"In yet another stunning election time conversion, Congressman Van Hollen has changed yet another position," Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes told the Baltimore Sun. "Maryland families deserve a senator with firm convictions, not one who goes whichever way the political winds are blowing or who makes decisions based on the next election."

...Van Hollen surprised some this week by opposing the fast-track bill before it was publicly released. Because he is a senior member of the House with close ties to Democratic leaders, his announcement was viewed as a victory for groups fighting the measure.

But Edwards saw inconsistency.

Her campaign noted Van Hollen voted for the last three trade deals in 2011-- with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. On the Colombia vote, Van Hollen was one of 31 House Democrats to join a majority of Republicans to support the bill. The rest of the Democratic caucus-- 158 members-- voted against it.

Van Hollen supported six other trade agreements-- with Chile, Singapore, Morocco and Peru, among others-- since entering Congress in 2003. He voted against a multilateral trade agreement with Central American countries in 2005 and an agreement with Oman in 2006.

"This is the one issue where there's really just a bright-line difference between them," said Lori M. Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, which has opposed the deals.

"Congresswoman Edwards had consistently voted against these job-killing agreements and actually helped to lead the fight to stop them."

Legislation to fast-track trade measures is a separate issue from the deals themselves. But in this case the effort to speed approval is linked directly to a landmark agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Many believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal-- a possible centerpiece of Obama's economic legacy-- will not pass without fast-track authority.

"It's no secret that past trade deals haven't always lived up to their promise, and that's why I will only sign my name to an agreement that helps ordinary Americans get ahead," Obama said in a statement Thursday as details of the legislation emerged.

Since Edwards announced her candidacy, she has sought to lay claim to the progressive wing of the party-- pitching to the liberal voters who are most likely to show up in a Democratic primary election.
You can contribute to Donna's campaign here, on the Blue America Senate page.

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