Job-Killing Trade Deals Pass Congress Amidst Record Democratic Opposition
By Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch
Published by Huffington Post, October 13, 2011
With 9 percent unemployment and Americans desperate for job creation, it is unconscionable that President Obama and House Republicans just shoved through a trio of NAFTA-style job-killing trade agreements that even the government's own studies show will increase the U.S. trade deficit.
This represents a complete flip-flop for President Obama, who won crucial swing states by pledging to overhaul our flawed trade policies. So, it is no surprise that a sizeable majority of Democrats in Congress voted against these agreements, against Obama and for American jobs.
A larger share of House Democrats voted against a Democratic president on trade than ever before. The two-thirds of House Democrats who opposed the Korea FTA included 62 percent of the ranking members and all but nine of the 40 Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members. The Colombia FTA even got majority Democratic opposition in the New Democratic and Blue Dog Caucuses as well, overwhelming CBC opposition, and a no vote from Minority Leader Pelosi and Whip James Clyburn.
It took Bill Clinton nearly eight years of NAFTA job losses, betrayals and Clinton scandals to have nearly two-thirds of the House Democrats vote against him on trade. By following the advice on trade of the old Clinton gang reunited in his White House, Obama exceeded the same feat with his first trade votes.
As we predicted, the only way these deals passed was because congressional GOP were loyal to their corporate bosses and provided President Obama almost all of the votes. Only 21 GOP voted no on the Korea FTA and of those, only seven out of the 83 GOP freshmen did so.
Ultimately it was the Tea Party GOP freshmen who passed these job-killing deals, despite their campaign commitments at home to stand up for main street businesses, against more job offshoring and for Buy America. The three pacts explicitly ban Buy America procurement policies. The Korea FTA is projected to increase the trade deficit, with seven U.S. industrial sectors hardest hit and job losses of 159,000 in its first seven years.
This came after a major effort by the usual Inside the Beltway corporate lobbyists to "educate" away these new members' silly homegrown notions about what comprises a fair trade policy and whip them in line to vote for more NAFTAs.
That said, that the Democratic Senate majority did not stop any of these deals and that any House Democrats voted for them is just inexcusable.
The politics of this bad news trade trifecta are incredibly messed up. President Obama shoved through trade deals signed by George W. Bush and loved by Wall Street Banksters and the Chamber of Commerce, but opposed by his own base and most congressional Democrats. Congressional GOP, who don't exactly hold President Obama in high regard, provided him with almost all of the votes to do so.
Perhaps the only Democrats who are happy this evening are the folks at the Democratic congressional campaign committees who probably have started editing the "GOP freshman X came to Washington saying he would create jobs and then voted for the biggest job killing trade deal since NAFTA" ads.
And those ads write themselves. The polling on trade reveals that perhaps the only thing most Americans agree on across the political spectrum is that more NAFTAs are bad for their families and the nation. Every election cycle, more Democrats and GOP are campaigning against these sorts of NAFTA-style trade pacts, so especially given high unemployment it will be very rough for those who voted yes.
Given that, everyone is asking what the Obama administration could have been thinking to push the sorts of NAFTA-style trade deals that majorities of Democrats, Independents and even GOP voters oppose as job killers. Some assume the goal was to win back the support of the wealthy Wall Street Democrats who contributed so richly in 2008. The Korea pact is celebrated by the financial services industry for its deregulatory requirements. Even a fact sheet from the U.S. government's International Trade Administration highlights this FTA's limits on financial regulation as a boon: "The U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement will set new, higher standards for addressing regulatory issues… "
This is especially unfathomable given the White House's worries about the "enthusiasm gap," and the fact that many current Obama staff were Clinton staff who personally lived through the political fall out of the 1993 NAFTA vote. Then, a Democratic president blurring distinctions between the parties on trade and jobs caused a disgruntled base to stay home and congressional Democrats were decimated.
Even White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, whose job it is to sell these trade deals and who helped former President Bill Clinton sell NAFTA to a skeptical Congress, recognized that workers "lose from these agreements," and implied that campaigning against free trade agreements could even be an electoral advantage. ("White House's Daley seeks balance in outreach meeting with manufacturers," The Washington Post, June 16, 2011).
Whatever the reason, the reality is that any politician that supported these job-killing agreements backed by Wall Street and America's most notorious job-offshoring corporations and opposed by American workers, small business and consumers will face a reckoning as the damage of these pacts hits home.