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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Keller @ Large: Lynch Disappointed In President Over Trade Bill
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem