The relentless spin on Fast Track
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 18, 2015


Last week, for the first time in years, I called my congressman without feeling silly for doing my civic duty. I thought that my constituent opinion might actually be welcomed by Seth Moulton, who seemed to be valiantly struggling with an incomprehensible upcoming vote on President Obama’s “Fast Track” trade legislation and Pacific Rim trade deal.

Hallelujah! My congressman voted no, the way I hoped he would, on the attempt by the odd coalition of Obama, Wall Street and its Republicans to negotiate a deal about which we can only speculate, since its details won’t be released to the public until it’s too late for us to comment on specifics we might not like.

The union members rallying in front of his headquarters may have had more of an impact than my one little phone call, but here’s another thing unusual to my experience: I agree with the unions. I’m not buying the pro-Fast Track arguments of Republicans I usually support, like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, probably because I recall an earlier debate in 1994.

I was attending a National Taxpayer Union conference in Washington and one of the subjects discussed was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Taxpayer activists seemed divided between Free Trade Republicans and conservative populists, many of whom were supporting Ross Perot for president.

Someone from the Wall Street Journal made his pitch in favor of NAFTA, and I had a question. “As a libertarian,” I said, “I favor free trade, which I define as ‘I sell you anything you want to buy, and vice versa.’ What are the other 2,000 pages in the agreement for?” No one really seemed to know.

Eventually we found out. My activist friend Chip Ford was a key New England volunteer for Perot’s presidential campaign, acting as his surrogate in local debates: I often heard Perot’s definition of NAFTA as “that giant sucking sound” taking American jobs to Mexico. Other trade agreements sucked them to other countries.

Not that I was terribly sympathetic toward the unions. They had caused much of the problem with their negotiated greed and outrageous benefits which many businesses were eager to escape. Something that puzzles me is how New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman could write his best seller, “The World is Flat” about the global economy, without once mentioning the union abuses that encouraged companies to move to other places on the globe and no one seems to notice this oversight.

However, the union problem became the country’s problem. Was it surprise, or denial, when the American economy didn’t bounce back from recession, when blue-collar jobs seemed permanently gone, when it became difficult to find American-made goods except at yard sales?

Oh well, we were told that our workers would move into better jobs, as we shifted to “the information economy.” So here we are in 2015, calling tech support in India, as educated foreigners come here on work visas to be trained by American white-collar workers to take their jobs.

So, we need another 800 pages of trade agreement that we taxpayers along with the unions can’t see until it’s settled, and the ever-trustworthy Barack Obama wants congressional approval to negotiate by himself?

Trying to buy union support, Obama supporters connected that approval to a bill funding training for workers displaced by what U.S. Sen. Paul Ryan insists are the wonderful job opportunities that the trade agreement will bring. Incredibly, the bill funds the training with cuts in Medicare, a politically suicidal addition to an insulting attempt at worker bribery.

Definitions section: TPA: Fast Track authority for president. TAA: job training for workers, paid for by Medicare cuts (though Republicans, apparently thinking senior citizens as well as unions are dumb as rocks, promise that the Medicare-cut language will be removed later.) TPP: The actual trade agreement, which, once negotiated by Obama, will contain provisions that we’ll all have a chance to look at, though not influence in any way, for 60 days before the up-or down, no-amendments final Congressional vote.

The Senate has passed both TPA and TAA. The House voted last Friday to reject TAA, shocking most professional observers with this “rebuff to Obama” by Democrats. Many anti-TPA conservatives, most notably talk show hosts, were celebrating this great victory. The unions were more subdued, seemingly waiting for the “What next?”

At least they got Obama’s attention. His labor secretary, Thomas Perez, went on television talking-head shows Sunday, insisting that the issue is not dead, there is just a “procedural hurdle.” He assured union members that this trade package “renegotiates NAFTA, where Labor was at the kid’s table.”

Really? I don’t recall Labor being told they were at the kid’s table in 1994. But since Mexico and Canada are part of the Pacific Rim, this renegotiation-plan could be true.

Already we are seeing “renegotiation,” as the House begins a debate to remove country-of-origin labels on meat, to please the World Trade Organization, Canada and Mexico. Let’s all plan to get our meat from local farms that advertise treating the animals well, then we won’t have to care if our government doesn’t want us to know where our meat comes from or who is inspecting it.

If TPP passes, expect to find out, too late, that our country has given up much of its sovereignty on consumer and environmental protections. I assume the reason unions defeated TAA was so they’d be invited to the grown-up table while these protections can still being debated. Guess we know where that leaves the rest of us.

Proponents miscalculated on this vote. Unions sent their message with defeat of TAA, joined by enough Republicans who “get” the problem (or feared the Medicare cuts or tax hikes required to fund it), but let the TPA pass. Now what?

I heard that Pelosi wanted to trade votes for an unrelated transportation bill, which some congressmen found insulting. Instead, they voted, in the middle of an unrelated intelligence bill, to extend reconsideration of Friday’s trade vote to July 30. As I write this Tuesday afternoon, I expect there could still be a procedural vote to separate TAA from TPA, so that Fast Track, which is already approved, can proceed. Stay tuned.

Updated: Sunday, June 21, 2015
Keller @ Large: Lynch Disappointed In President Over Trade Bill

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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