Trade policy may become a flash point in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, as both candidates at Netroots Nation sought to criticize the other as too supportive of unfair trade agreements.
Some union officials have expressed dismay over the trade positions of both candidates. Specter voted for the 1994 NAFTA, and 2007 Peru agreements, while Sestak, who joined the House in 2007, also voted for the Peru deal.
I had the opportunity today to ask Senator Specter if he felt that Congressman Sestak was weak on trade and Senator Specter responded, "Yes, I think that is correct." Earlier when addressing the full conference, Specter sought to stress his trade record by citing the thirteen times he had gone before the International Trade Commission to fight for trade law enforcement.
Soon after, I asked Congressman Sestak to respond to Senator's Specter criticism. Sestak said that he voted for the Peru Free Trade Agreement because he felt it was a good deal. Sestak then criticized Specter's record on trade saying that he wouldn't have voted for NAFTA or CAFTA like Specter had done previously. (Update: Specter indeed did vote against CAFTA despite Sestak's claim to the contrary). Sestak also responded that he planned to vote against Korea Free Trade Agreement as well as the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The candidate's intense sparing over trade illustrates how explosive the issue of trade is in Pennsylvania. Manufacturing is the second largest employer in the state of Pennsylvania and employs over 900,000 people in the state of Pennsylvania. Since 2001, nearly 250,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Pennsylvania as a result of competition to China.
As we pointed out in our report on Pittsburgh: The Rest of the Story part of the reason for the economic revival in Pittsburgh was a direct result of efforts to increase manufacturing. Over 100,000 people in the Pittsburgh Area alone are employed in manufacturing. As a part of our "Making It in America" project, we have pointed out repeatedly that manufacturing is essential to rebuilding our economy and moving away from the debt-driven boom bust cycles of the past.