The upcoming trade vote in Congress is about one thing: Americans who work hard for a living. It’s about whether we slow down and change the terms of a bad trade deal so that it benefits working people — those Americans who lay awake at night wondering how they’re going to make ends meet.
If President Obama and his Republican allies get members of Congress to vote in favor of the Trade Promotion Authority, then a deal that encompasses 40% of the world’s economy will zoom to President Obama’s desk. If Members hold firm and demand a fair trade deal, then Americans have a chance.
The fight over trade comes at a time when Americans are putting in long hours at their first job, and spending nights away from their families working a second job. All of these folks who work hard for a living are exhausted every day because they are doing everything they can to provide for their loved ones.
But they just can’t get ahead.
One reason is that our nation’s leaders, Republicans and Democrats, repeatedly signed trade deals that turned out to be bad deals for American workers. Our leaders didn’t vote for these agreements to hurt Americans who work hard for a living. They believed America’s biggest corporations would share profits fairly with the workers who produced the wealth.
But the record on trade deals is clear. Bad trade deals destroyed jobs and depressed wages. American workers were left behind and huge corporations got richer. In the 20 years after NAFTA, we lost 1 million jobs. Communities from Bangor to Baltimore, Cleveland to Huntsville, and New Orleans to Los Angeles were devastated. My own Minnesota lost jobs to bad trade deals. African American and Latino workers were hit the hardest by fleeing factories and job losses.
My colleagues and I who voted against Trade Promotion Authority are not isolationists. We’re not against trade. We understand we live in a global economy. Many members of Congress have proposed models for fair trade deals that can’t even get a debate or a vote in the Congress. But the newest trade proposal before us, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), repeats the harmful practices of past deals. It contains specific threats to working people. I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed.
If hurting workers wasn’t bad enough, several parts of the proposed deal risk our environment, the safety of our food and drugs, and even our nation’s laws. For example, a corporation could sue the United States if it thinks our policies reduce their profits. This is a process called Investor State Dispute Settlement, technical language meant to protect investors in countries without rule of law. The trade negotiators tell us “not to worry” because we have never lost a case. But opening laws that protect our meat, fruits and vegetables to the prying fingers of the world’s biggest corporations is a risk we shouldn’t take.
The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership makes it easier for large corporations to dig deeper into our wallets. Drug companies ask for special breaks to give themselves control over pricing certain kinds of drugs, which means they can charge more to people all over the world. We all better hope someone in our family doesn’t need a drug that is overpriced thanks to the fine print in a trade deal.
Finally the proposed deal doesn’t begin to fix our nation’s huge trade deficit. In fact, it would make the deficit worse because TPP does not contain enforceable currency manipulation provisions. It would not stop currency manipulators who boost their exports and impede the flow of goods, creating trade deficits that cost American jobs. We already have trade deficits with more than half the countries negotiating to join the TPP. We cannot let our trade deficit explode like it did with Canada and Mexico after NAFTA passed.
So here are the questions we should ask ourselves before voting on Trade Promotion Authority:
Does the proposed deal help or hurt Americans who work hard every day to make ends meet?
Does the proposed deal bring back jobs to communities like Baltimore, Flint, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Oakland?
Does the proposed deal ask our partner nations to stop jailing labor organizers; to stop human trafficking; to raise environmental protections?
If the answer to these questions is no — I think it is a resounding no — then we should vote no.
It’s time to work for a fair trade deal that will grow American jobs and wages, rather than accelerate a race to the bottom. We must put the fast track deal back on the right track — back on the side of every American.