During his campaigning days back in 2008, President Obama promised to rewrite NAFTA. Even Hillary at the time modestly admitted that there were mistakes made when this terrible agreement was drafted back in the 1990s. Of course, those pronouncements ended up leading to zero action on reforming NAFTA from this administration -- another victim of political "Pinocchio syndrome."
We have a history of failed trade policies that have cost us nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs at home and led to just under 60,000 factories being shuttered, and with each passing trade deal, more of our liberties are taken from us and more of our protections are compromised as regulations are gutted. Have we learned nothing since Bill Clinton gave us NAFTA (which, by the way, was also fast-tracked, like all of its successors)? No, because since then a host of companion trade disasters have befallen us, such as CAFTA, KORUS and the Panama Free Trade Agreement.
All of this has led us to today, when we are facing the mother of all lousy trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an egregious corporate giveaway that, frankly, has little to do with free trade, but would cede incredible power to a small faction of the monied elite now controlling our government and our lives. This so-called "trade" package is made up of 29 parts, with only five actually dealing with trade. Written in secrecy by 600 representatives of corporations and their allies, and shepherded by Michael Froman, our Trade Representative who came to this job straight from Wall Street - has anyone ever heard of a conflict of interest in this administration? Even members of Congress have been denied the necessary time to read this massive agreement, being given only small snippets to review at monitored, closed-door sessions in which they are forbidden to take notes. This is a very big deal, as the eleven Pacific Rim countries partnering with us on this and the two other trade bills in this package will control over 50 percent of international trade worldwide.
Last Thursday, the House, led by Speaker Boehner and his cronies, used procedural rope-a-dope and fancy footwork worthy of an Ali prize fight to deliver a bill approving fast track of the TPP back to the Senate for a second go around. The House had separated the original TPP bill into two and voted on them individually - one being the TAA, a workers aid package that would retrain those who lose their jobs with the passage of the TPP, and the second being the fast track, or Trade Promotion Authority bill. This time the fast track bill passed in a close vote of 218-208. It is noteworthy that 28 corporatist Dems voted for it, while 50 Republicans voted against it.
So now it's back to the Senate to vote on this new bill, as the House clearly did a little passing of the buck here. Senate Dems will need some convincing, however, and they are likely to seek some sweeteners in the deal to let it move forward. If fast track is approved by the Senate, it will deliver six years of unfettered trade authority to this and the next President. A vote in the Senate is being pushed for early this week by Majority Leader McConnell, meaning there will be no debate or amendments, proceeding instead to a simple up or down vote - hardly a vision of democracy at work. Will the Senate just have to accept the Mitch's word that the workers' aid program TAA will follow at a later date? The money for funding that program has already shrunk from a proposed $700 million that was to be pulled from Medicare - a definite no-no for Dems - down to about $450 million. The need for this program at all confirms the seriousness and extent of job losses that come from these terrible agreements, so we cannot afford to see the TAA shortchanged - but where will the funding come from?
The magic number in the Senate needed to pass fast track is 60 votes for "cloture" and then 51 votes to pass the bill, and you can bet the President and members of his cabinet will be working the phones and making trips to Capitol Hill to plead their case and pressure Congress to ensure the votes are there. This is a new and even worse version of a bill the House previously had been considering, which has been concocted by Speaker Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan to attract GOP votes with such "goodies" as a ban on climate negotiations and dropping the ban on fast tracking trade deals with countries like human trafficking-happy Malaysia and other notorious human rights violators like Vietnam and Brunei. Even proposals modestly addressing currency manipulation were cut out.
The good news is that the anti-fast track coalition isn't folding its tent and will continue the fight to stop this bill in the Senate up to the very last possible moment. They have been a strong presence and became more visible and louder every day on this issue. Hundreds of thousands have joined this fight bringing in a diverse group of organizations, unions and "ordinary people" from all walks of life who are concerned about the impact this legislation will have on their families and jobs. They have visited and made thousands of phone calls to the offices of their Congressional representatives, sent petitions and have made it clearly known that they will remember who voted and how on election day.
Meanwhile, as the vote nears, Hillary was shaking the trees in California, while her campaign was fundraising with pro-TPP lobbyists McGuireWoods PAC in D.C. And here she had been sounding like a new New Dealer of late, especially in her speech last week on Roosevelt Island where FDR is honored for his Four Freedoms Speech delivered in his 1941 State of the Union. How brilliant to pick this particular spot for her populist theme-laden speech. "America can't succeed unless you succeed," she noted as the crowd of an estimated 5,500 roared its approval. "That is why I am running for President of the United States... I am running to make our economy work for you and every American." Hillary continued on with other issues that are of great concern, but offered little more than sound bites with no solutions on any point. Clearly she has been listening to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
There were some key points missing from Mrs. Clinton's rhetoric, however, notably in offering no opinions about the TPP deal, instead saying she will comment when she sees the whole package. No mention, either, of climate change, foreign affairs, rebuilding our national infrastructure, or a healthcare delivery system that is becoming increasingly unaffordable -- not to mention the 30 million that remain uninsured under the ACA. And what of the gun violence in our communities nationwide? On the issue of voting rights, she did offer up a proposal of automatic registration at the age of 18 - a very good idea. She also mentioned an amendment to overturn Citizens United - even though she continues to take money from PAC's and every special interest out there and apparently finds no problem with her hubby Bill continuing to give those high priced speeches to God knows who, while chirping that he has "bills to pay." Will Hillary ever transition into a true Progressive and leave her centrist, corporatist, hawkish proclivities behind? It may depend on how far Bernie can push her in that direction in the coming primaries.
On the GOP side, we see the circus is revving up with The Donald entering the Presidential race in his typical clownish fashion. There will be plenty of entertainment on the horizon coming from this field of almost 20 from the Conservative party who are now running for President. It seems every member of Congress and occupant of a governor's mansion nationwide thinks they are presidential material. Speaking of governors, let us not overlook the 12 governor's races, 34 Senate races and 435 House races coming in 2016, along with thousands of races at the state and local levels. For a President to be effective, he -- or she -- needs allies in Congress and other segments of government to aid in implementing a political agenda.
So be vigilant and join in, America, as our work continues to take back our country and democracy!
With Jonathan Stone