Let’s Take Apart The Corporate Case For Fast Track Trade Authority

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman appeared before Congress Tuesday to make the corporate argument for “fast track” trade promotion authority. The USTR and President Obama are pushing fast-track pre-approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other big “trade” agreements they are working on. The Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other corporate groups and lobbyists are also pushing hard for Congress to pass fast track.

The promoters of fast track say we need it to push “trade” agreements through Congress to expand trade and increase exports. “What we’re going to do through this trade agreement is open up markets,” Froman told Congress Tuesday, “and then level the playing field so we can protect workers, protect American jobs and then ensure a fair and level playing field by raising labor and environmental standards, raising intellectual property rights, standards and enforcement, making sure that we’re putting disciplines on state-owned enterprises that pose a real threat to workers.”

These corporate arguments (you can see them in this Chamber of Commerce slide show “Ten Reasons Why America Needs Trade Promotion Authority”) just make me more skeptical of what they are selling. Here’s why.

1) President Obama, trade representative Froman, the Chamber of Commerce and others repeat the talking point, “95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S..” This makes me skeptical of what they are selling because it is a “look over there at that shiny object” argument.

Saying that 95 percent of the world’s markets are outside the U.S. implies that we need TPP and other agreements because we are currently not selling goods to 95 percent of the world. This is patently false. We sell goods and services around the world already. In fact, it contradicts other corporate arguments for these agreements like, “More than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade.”

This argument deceives people about the very nature of these agreements. Most of the objections being voiced over these coming agreements are about non-trade issues. Only five of TPP’s 29 chapters deal with what people understand as “trade.” So an argument that TPP and similar agreements will “expand trade” masks what the bulk of these agreements are really about, which is getting governments off the backs of the giant corporations and protecting their profits from competition and democratic regulation.

Just one example of this is the “investor-state dispute settlements” provision, which I have called “corporate courts.” This part of “NAFTA-style” trade agreements, including TPP, allows corporations to sue governments that pass laws and regulations that interfere with profits. Similar clauses in trade agreements around the world have, for example, enabled tobacco companies to sue governments for trying to protect the health of their citizens. Under TPP these suits will be adjudicated by corporate attorneys, not democratically constituted courts.

Other examples are expanded copyright and patent protection for the giant multinationals, which will increase the cost of pharmaceutical products and potentially restrict the freedom of the Internet.

Obviously the corporate advocates of these agreements want this, so they are using distraction, diversion and shiny promises of increased trade and more jobs to sell the agreements.

2) Froman, testifying before the Senate Tuesday, said that we need these new agreements because our country has low tariffs and other barriers to entry while many countries we trade with have high tariffs and barriers to entry.

Wait, back up, he is saying that other countries have high tariffs and barriers to entry but we let goods from those countries into our country with low tariffs and few barriers? What? Doesn’t this undermine our country? Don’t low import tariffs cost badly needed revenue and enable offshoring of jobs and factories? Isn’t this a recipe for imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits? (And don’t we have imbalance, job loss and huge trade deficits as a result of that recipe?)

In other words, he is saying that the U.S. has been an absolute and complete patsy on trade. And obviously we have been paying the price. Our government hasn’t enforced trade balance and hasn’t protected American interests, which has cost us wages, jobs, factories and entire industries. We have an enormous, humongous trade deficit and that has lowered our standard of living, and driven inequality. Trade agreements haven’t fixed this — recent trade agreements like NAFTA and South Korea have worsened this problem, with more job loss and even larger trade deficits.

The USTR and the president argue that TPP will reset this problem and will enforce good labor and environmental standards. (Enforcing international labor standards would require our government to boost enforcement and a number of U.S. states to change their laws, by the way.)

The U.S. government has no credibility when it comes to protecting Americans from trade imbalances and the resulting loss of wages, jobs, factories and entire key industries. Yet with this terrible record Froman and the president are asking Congress to pre-approve new trade agreements by passing fast track. They are asking this while the coming agreements – negotiated using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess – are still secret. They are asking this even though fast track will prevent Congress from adequately examining and debating agreements and fixing problems. Fast Track also keeps the public from having time to read and comprehend the agreements and rally opposition if opposition is warranted.

Saying that we have been patsies isn’t an argument for setting up a fast-track process to pass more trade agreements; it is an argument for backing up and replacing everyone and everything involved in setting and enforcing our government’s trade policies. Pushing through even more agreements using the same corporate-dominated process that caused the mess is not a way to fix the mess; it is a way to make things even worse.

3) Corporate advocates for fast track argue that we need to increase exports. This is exactly right, but they never, ever, ever, ever, ever mention imports and trade deficits. Why is that? We need balanced trade. If imports increase more than exports this represents a net loss of jobs, technology, manufacturing ecosystem and our living standard. If trade imbalances continue over time it throws the entire world’s economy out of balance. (It does things like enable 80 people to have as much wealth as half of the world’s population, and 1 percent of the world to have more wealth than all of the rest combined.)

Is there a section of these new agreements – the five of 23 chapters that are actually about trade, anyway – that requires that trade be balanced so we can stop losing jobs, wages, factories and industries? TPP is still secret, so we don’t really know. And fast track doesn’t give us time to find out once we do see the agreement, and doesn’t allow us to fix it if it doesn’t require balance.

4) Corporate advocates say “more than 38 million American jobs already depend on trade. This is one in every five jobs across the country.” I’m not sure how this is an argument for new trade agreements when they say we’re already doing so great. In any event, they are not bringing up the jobs we have lost to imports – which is more than the jobs we have gained from exports. They’re again saying “trade is good” to divert us from seeing that only five of the 29 chapters of TPP are even about trade at all. The rest is about getting democratic government off the backs of the giant multinational corporations and protecting them from competition.

5) Another corporate argument is that 97 percent of American companies that export are small businesses. This is another misleading and irrelevant number. They don’t say what percent of our exports come from these small businesses. And trade agreements that reinforce the monopolies held by giant multinational corporations by expanding their copyright and patent dominance certainly do not help smaller businesses. They are instead designed to limit competition.

What is needed is for the the contents of the TPP agreements to be made public now and for stakeholders like labor, environmental, consumer, democracy, health and all other groups to be part of the process right now. Then, when an agreement is concluded, Congress and the public need adequate time to fully analyze and discuss these agreements and their implications. Finally, Congress should be able to fix problems with the agreements to bring them in line with the interests of all Americans.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

What Obama Got Wrong In His State of the Union Remarks On Trade

The President briefly spoke about trade in his State of the Union speech. He admitted that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype” but then he called for doing more of the same. He called for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — “Fast Track” — to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Here is what President Obama said about trade (from pre-released transcript):

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

But…

1) Exports are good for an economy, but exports and imports must be balanced. While our exports are up, our imports are up even more. This is why we have an enormous, humongous trade deficit. When imports are greater than exports it means jobs, factories and if the imbalance continues eventually the necessary pieces of industry ecosystems are lost. Our trade deficit is enormous and our trade has been out of balance since the 1970s.

Here is Paul Krugman, writing at his blog Monday,

The immediate problem facing much of the world is inadequate demand and the threat of deflation. Would trade liberalization help on that front? No, not at all. True, to the extent that trade becomes easier, world exports would rise, which is a net plus for demand. But world imports would rise by exactly the same amount, which is a net minus. Or to put it a bit differently, trade liberalization would change the composition of world expenditure, with each country spending more on foreign goods and less on its own, but there’s no reason to think it would raise total spending; so this is not a short-term economic boost.

Krugman also points out that current trade tariffs and protections are low, so a “trade” deal doesn’t really remove imposing barriers. He suspects that groups representing the giant multinationals, like the Chamber of Commerce, are really pushing this deal because it rigs the system in their favor and “will yield them a lot of monopoly rents.” Which leads to Obama’s next argument.

2) This idea that “we” should “write the rules” to “level the playing field” is interesting. Yes, China would like to write rules of trade in its favor. But it doesn’t follow from this that we should allow the giant multinational to write the rules in ways that rig the system against everyone but them. And this is exactly what TPP does. TPP is being negotiated in secret with participation of corporate representatives while representatives of labor, consumer, democracy, human rights, women’s, environmental and other “stakeholder” groups are kept away from the table. Only a small part of TPP is about “trade” at all, while parts of it elevate corporate rights above the rights of citizens in democracies to make their own laws. (For example tobacco companies can sue governments for profit-loss from anti-smoking campaigns. Under similar “trade” agreements this is already happening.)

And speaking of rigging the system …

3) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) hardly “protects American workers.” Also known as “Fast Track,” TPA essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even sees them. TPA pre-rigs the approval process by forcing an up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed within 90 days of anyone even seeing the agreement for the first time. This means the public doesn’t have time to fully comprehend what is in the agreement and rally opposition if opposition is warranted. Fast Track shifts the public and press focus to “will they kill the whole agreement” rather than on what is actually in the agreement. (This is how they were able to push Wall Street deregulation through the last “Citibank Budget” deal.)

4) There is nothing in past or upcoming trade agreements that will incentivize bringing manufacturing and other jobs back to the US, which the President promised. On the contrary, TPP includes Vietnam which boasts a minimum wage of 30 cents per hour and has a terrible record on labor rights. This tells us what we need to know about the incentives for manufacturers to bring jobs back.

5) One of the biggest factors in American job loss is currency manipulation, but TPP does not address currency manipulation. (TPP is being negotiated in secret but leaks and other indications tell us that there is nothing to address currency manipulation.) Jared Bernstein wrote about this in a January 9 NY Times op-ed, How to Stop Currency Manipulation, saying,

“… there’s one thing the administration can do that will both win over some opponents and address one of the biggest issues in global trade: add a chapter on currency manipulation.

… In a compelling argument for including a chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to restrict currency manipulation, C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that America’s trade deficit “has averaged $200 billion to $500 billion per year higher as a result of the manipulation” by the rest of the world, resulting in the loss of one million to five million jobs.

The loss of 1-5 million jobs to currency manipulation is a lot of jobs, yet this isn’t even in the agreement!

6) The President said that “past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.” Please see last week’s post What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade for a breakdown of what has happened with previous trade agreements. Also see the Public Citizen report, Prosperity Undermined: Fast-Tracked Trade Agreements’ 20-Year Record of Massive U.S. Trade Deficits, American Job Loss and Wage Suppression for a more comprehensive look at what these trade agreements have cost US workers, our manufacturing ecosystem and our economy — just so that a few executives and billionaires can get even wealthier.

Boost Wages Or Trade Agreements — But Not Both

The President wants to address income inequality. But these trade agreements have been a major driver of income inequality. American worker wages have been frozen for decades as workers were threatened with their jobs being moved out of the country. A few at the top have pocketed this wage differential for themselves. Trade deals that pit American workers and the “costs” — higher wages, environmental protections, etc — of democracy against non-democracies where people don’t get good wages and the environment is not protected work against the President’s stated goals.

Josh Bivens writes at the Economic Policy Institute blog, Trade Agreements or Boosting Wages? We Can’t Do Both,

To put it plainly, if policymakers—including the President—are really serious about boosting wage growth for low and moderate-wage Americans, then the push to fast-track TPP and TTIP makes no sense.

… the most staid textbook models argue precisely that for a country like the United States, expanded trade should be expected to (yes) lift overall national incomes, but should redistribute so much from labor to capital owners, so that wages actually fall. …

Also see Obama vs. Obama: The State of the Union’s Self-Defeating Trade Pitch at the Eyes on Trade blog for “a side-by-side analysis of how Obama’s push to Fast Track the TPP contradicts his own State of the Union agenda.”

A Few Other Reactions

At a Wednesday press conference with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and other House Democrats, Rep. Slaughter said, “The president said last night that previous trade deals had not lived up to the hype. That may be the understatement of the century. We will fight this tooth and nail, and I believe we are going to win.”

Also at the press conference, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) said, “Fast track is designed to embed into these so-called free trade agreements a bunch of things that are detrimental to the American public.”

Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) “The Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) advocates a new direction in trade policy focusing upon balanced trade, a comprehensive US competitiveness strategy, and producing more of what we consume here. We oppose Congress ratifying the past, wrongheaded trade strategy which produces trade deficits, job loss, and incentives to offshore manufacturing for re-import into the US.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM): “By ignoring the concerns of industry, workers, and majorities of the House and Senate, he’s not only putting the TPP at risk, he’s putting a whole lot of auto jobs in the US at risk, too.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA):

“…[W]e cannot stand with the President in his alliance with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable to send more U.S. jobs offshore, undermine U.S. communities and weaken U.S. sovereignty under the guise of “free trade.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has much more to do with protecting the investment of multinational corporations and maneuvering around China than lowering trade barriers.

Public opposition to “fast track authority” and the TPP is strong, and growing more vocal everyday. Consumer groups, workers, environmentalists, people of faith, students and more have united to stop this attack on U.S. jobs and communities. Conservatives, who do not believe that nations should relinquish their sovereign power to secret tribunals, also are on board.

Over the past 20 years, millions of U.S. jobs have been lost. The jobs U.S. workers had been promised over those years of course never materialized. In fact, just two trade deals – NAFTA and the Korea Free Trade Agreement — have resulted in the loss of nearly 800,000 jobs. The promoters of the TPP are again promising job gains through growth in U.S. exports. But we can do the math. Any new jobs will be dwarfed by the flood of jobs that go offshore.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

What You Need To Know When Obama Talks Trade

President Obama is likely to use the State of the Union to push for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the rigged “fast track” trade promotion authority. Here are some facts to counter the expected public relations campaign.

Of Course “Trade” Is Good

But first, of course “trade” is a good and necessary thing. We all trade with others. This is how people, businesses and even countries “make a living.” Critics of our country’s current trade policies are not “anti-trade”; they are anti-trade-deficit. They are opposed to the use of so-called “trade” agreements to promote the interests of the largest multinational and Wall Street corporations at the expense of America’s working people, its middle class, its domestic “Main Street” companies, our environment and the country’s long-term economic health.

Compare the timeline of a chart of our country’s trade deficits with the increase in the economic tensions of our middle class, our manufacturing regions and other economic troubles:

Trade policies that are rigged to boost the interests of the giant, multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us are not good at all. “Trade” agreements and “offshoring” of jobs have become synonymous. But “trade” doesn’t at all have to be about moving American jobs and factories out of the country so that executives can pocket the pay difference and the difference in the cost of enforcing environmental protections.

The Recent Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement Is An Example

During the State of the Union speech the president is expected to feature the owner of a small business that has increased its exports to South Korea since the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was signed. This is ironic. Americans believe in and support small business – hence the use of the owner of one – but our country’s trade deals have been negotiated primarily for the benefit of giant, multinational corporations, and their interests often collide with the interests of smaller, “Main Street” businesses.

Some American businesses have indeed added sales and workers as a result of the KORUS FTA. But the fact is that since that trade agreement was signed the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has grown 50 percent – a metric that has resulted in 50,000 American jobs lost. In other words, since the KORUS FTA went into effect, South Korea is selling much more to us than the country is buying from us – and this problem is getting worse and worse. And as the trade deficit chart above shows, this just happens to be the record of our “trade” agreements.

Please take a look at this Census Bureau data page, “Trade in Goods with Korea, South.”

The KORUS FTA went into effect in March 2012. That month we sold $4,224 million in goods to South Korea and we imported $4,788.2 million in goods.

In November 2014 the U.S. had a $2.8 billion monthly trade deficit with Korea – the highest monthly U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea on record. We had $6.3 billion in imports from Korea (a record) and $3.5 billion in exports to Korea that month. In the first two years of the KORUS FTA, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea went up by 50 percent (a $7.6 billion increase).

So since March 2012 our exports to South Korea decreased from $4.224 billion to $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, our imports increased from $4.788 billion to $6.3 billion.

The KORUS FTA has hit American small businesses harder than large ones. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, small firms with fewer than 100 employees saw exports to Korea drop 14 percent while firms with more than 500 employees saw exports decline by 3 percent. According to “Report Funded by Big Business Explains to Small Businesses What’s Best for Them” at Public Citizen’s Eyes on Trade blog, “As a result, under the Korea FTA, small businesses are capturing an even smaller share of the value of U.S. exports to Korea (just 16 percent), while big businesses’ share has increased to 72 percent.”

This is the record: The KORUS FTA so far has resulted in a trade deficit of $2.8 billion a month, representing the loss of around 50,000 jobs. It has been harder on smaller businesses than larger ones, allowing the larger businesses to push the smaller businesses aside. But in the State of the Union, the president is going to bring attention to the owner of one small business that increased its exports and hired more workers, and use this to say to make the public think that the KORUS FTA has been good for our country – and that we should enter into more agreements like it.

Other Trade Agreements

The KORUS FTA certainly is not our only “free trade” agreement. NAFTA is the shorthand name many Americans use for our trade agreements generally. How has NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – worked out for the U.S.?

The Public Citizen Global Trade Watch report titled, “NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws” compared the promises with which NAFTA was sold to the results measured 20 years later. Some of the effects of NAFTA that are highlighted in the report include:

● a $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada,
● one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA,
● a doubling of immigration from Mexico,
● larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,
● and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The data also show how post-NAFTA trade and investment trends have contributed to:

● middle-class pay cuts, which in turn contributed to growing income inequality;
● U.S. trade deficit growth with Mexico and Canada 45 percent higher than with countries not party to a U.S. Free Trade Agreement,
● U.S. manufacturing and services exports to Canada and Mexico that have grown at less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.

What about our deal to bring China into the World Trade Organization? Obviously South Korea is small potatoes when compared with China and the data bear this out. In August 2012 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the U.S. lost 2.7 million jobs as a result of the U.S.-China trade deficit between 2001 and 2011, with 2.1 million of those lost in the manufacturing sector. Along with these job losses, U.S. wages fell due to the competition with cheap Chinese labor, which has cost a typical U.S. household with two wage-earners around $2,500 per year.

The Commerce Department reported earlier this month that our November trade deficit with China was $29.8 billion. That’s $29.8 billion in one month! Our exports to China decreased $200 million to $11.1 billion and our imports from China decreased $100 million to $40.9 billion from the previous month. Think how many jobs would be created here if $29.8 billion of additional orders came in to companies making and doing things inside the U.S., and this continued every month!

Balance Needed

Trade should be balanced or economies are thrown out of whack. “Trade” is supposed to mean we buy from them and they buy from us. It is not supposed to mean we buy from them and later they use the money to buy us. It is not supposed to mean we send jobs and factories out of our country so that a few executives and shareholders can pocket the wage difference and the reduction of environment enforcement costs.

Exports are great, but if a deal to increase exports increases imports even more, we have a trade deficit and are still at a net loss of jobs, factories and wealth. This means that we are still offshoring jobs so that executives can line their pockets with the wage differential. This has been the case with the KORUS FTA. This has been the case with NAFTA. This has so obviously been the case with China. The last thing We the People need is even more of this.

The reason our trade policies are working out this way is because the beneficiaries of this kind of trade deal are the ones controlling and negotiating these trade deals. The giant, multinational corporations and Wall Street make money from offshoring U.S. jobs and production – partly because our tax laws encourage this activity. The rest of us, including our “Main Street” businesses and the country at large, are net losers. This is obvious to anyone who drives through much of the country or who talks to regular, working people. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the timeline of that trade deficit chart and compares that to the economic shifts of our last few decades.

Our trade negotiating process is rigged from the start. Giant, multinational and Wall Street corporate interests are at the negotiating table. Consumer, labor, environmental, human rights, democracy, health and all the other stakeholder representatives are excluded and the results of these negotiations reflect this. A rigged process called “fast track” is used to essentially force Congress to pre-approve the agreements before the public has a chance to analyze and react to them.

Obviously the giant, multinational and Wall Street corporations would want the public to believe that everyday small businesses gain from our trade deals, when in fact they do not. It is less obvious why President Obama would want to present at the State of the Union the story of one small business that does not reflect the reality of the trade deals he is promoting.

Get Ready Now For Fast Track Fight

As soon as the new Congress is sworn in next year, the fight over Fast Track will begin. Start preparing now.

David Cay Johnston, explains in “Full Speed Ahead On Secretive Trade Deal”: (Note the ‘t’ in his last name. I am David C JohnSON.)

Early next year, after the 114th Congress begins meeting, a new Washington coalition will move quickly to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade agreement that will destroy American jobs, restrict individual liberty and burden American taxpayers. Oh, and it will do so without any real debate.

… The agreement would even let foreign companies seek damages if U.S. or state rules threaten their profits. Plaintiff companies would not have to sustain damages to collect damages from American taxpayers. They would only need to show a threat to their profits, leaks from the trade talks have revealed. Under previous trade deals, American taxpayers already have paid $3 billion in damages, with $14 billion in claims still in litigation.

Johnston explains that this will be pushed using Fast Track:

Fast track = little debate

Don’t expect a vigorous congressional debate exploring the agreement and its implications, especially for workers, before it becomes the law of the land.

Obama wants Congress to fast-track the agreement, which would mean perfunctory congressional hearings followed by an up-or-down vote within 90 days, no amendments allowed. That congressional Republicans favor fast-tracking has an “Alice in Wonderland” quality, given GOP attacks on his supposed dictatorial use of executive orders. (He has issued far fewer executive orders per year than any other president in the last century.)

Secrecy and fast track are not how democracy is supposed to work. They are also a glaring contradiction of candidate Obama’s transparency promises in 2008.

There will be a massive effort to push this through. Richard McCormack has the story on this effort over at Manufacturing and Technology News, in President Obama, Wall Street Financiers, Corporate CEOS And Members Of Congress Meet Together To Plan Strategy To Sell And Pass Free-Trade Agreements, (note that TPA is commonly know as “Fast Track.”)

The country’s top executives from Wall Street and corporate America are working directly with President Obama and members of his cabinet and appointees on passing a free-trade agenda that is unpopular among the president’s natural constituents of democrats, labor unions, environmental and consumer groups and the American public as a whole.

Obama, his staff and members of Congress met directly with CEOs of major multinational corporations in Washington, D.C., on December 11 to discuss the “ground game” — as his aides described it — needed to persuade Americans on the benefits of free trade and to lobby Congress on passage of Trade Promotion Authority [TPA] and the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] next year.

… In joining the meeting of his Export Council, Obama sat between council co-chairs James McNerney, CEO of Boeing, and Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corp., and encouraged them — along with two dozen other executives from companies like IBM, Archer Daniels Midland, Dow, Pfizer and Deloitte — to help him “make the sale. . . It’s going to be very important for business to be out there and champion this and show that this is ultimately good for you, for your suppliers, for your workers,” Obama said.

Obama told Boeing CEO McNerney to galvanize his company’s suppliers “and their workers . . . presumably in every congressional district [to make] the case so [that] it’s not just a bunch of CEOs calling [members of Congress] but it’s people who understand they’ve got a stake in it.”

So there will be a massive, well-funded push by the administration and the giant multinational corporations starting early next year. They will promise jobs and prosperity. They will push Congress to pass Fast Track, which essentially pre-approves trade agreements before anyone even knows what is in them. The model for doing it this way is the recent “Citibank Budget.” Citibank snuck a provision deregulating derivative trading with taxpayer-protected funds into the budget at the last minute. So the debate was over whether voting against it would shut down the government, and not over the merits of the provision.

We Need Balanced Trade, Not More Imports

The President says he is pushing these trade deals because we need to increase exports. He is right that it is a good thing to increase exports, but the Wall Street Journal explains the problem with this, in U.S. Manufacturing Rebound Lags Behind Work Sent Abroad, “The U.S. has continued to grow more reliant on imports from China and other Asian countries despite a much-discussed trend toward “reshoring” of manufacturing, a study by the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc. shows.”

In other words, the things we have been doing to gain jobs by increasing exports have cost us even more jobs than we gained, because we increased imports more than we increased exports. What we need is balanced trade, not more trade.

Fast Track essentially pre-approves trade agreements before people get a chance to read them, analyze them and rally opposition. It prevents Congress from fixing problems in the agreements. This is the wrong way for our country to do this.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Nationwide Fight for $15 Strikes Today In 190 Cities

There are strikes today in 190 cities with fast food workers demanding $15 an hour and the right to unionize. At the same time low-wage federal contract workers are demanding Presidential action to win $15 and a union.

People are striking in 190 cities demanding $15 an hour and the right to form a union. It’s not just fast-food workers striking today. Home care workers, convenience store cashiers, discount store clerks, airport cleaners and ramp workers and baggage handlers and skycaps and wheelchair attendants, Walmart associates, and federally-contracted service workers are all calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

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Here’s What ’60 Minutes’ Should Have Reported About Infrastructure

“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure.

Here are a few choice quotes, but really you should click through and watch the whole thing (and then come back here):

  • “Except for the stimulus nothing much has happened. It is ‘just another example of political paralysis in Washington.’ “
  • “1 of every 9 bridges (70,000) is structurally deficient.”
  • “It all comes down to funding.”
  • “These all are tragedies waiting to happen.”
  • “32% of major roads in America are in poor condition.”
  • “It’s falling apart because we haven’t made the investment.”
  • “Public spending on infrastructure has fallen to its lowest level since 1947.”

How bad is the problem? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a regular “report card” on “the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure.” The 2013 grade is D+ and the cost to get us back to normal is now at $3.6 trillion. (The longer we wait the more the cost increases.) Because of this, The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks the U.S. as 16th in the quality of its infrastructure.

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DC Strike Drives Home The Point: More Than The Minimum For Federal Workers

Should our government be for good jobs with good wages and benefits – the things most of We the People want in our lives? Or should it be for bad jobs, low wages, no benefits – the very things that a wealthy few (who like to call themselves “job creators”) have become known for, just so they can pocket that pay difference for themselves?

In other words, who is our government for? The broad masses of regular, working people or a very few already-wealthy people?

President Obama has used executive orders to boost the minimum wage and raise workplace standards for employees of federal contractors.

Campaign for America’s Future, Progressive Congress, Good Jobs Nations, and a coalition of progressive organizations have released a “More Than The Minimum” plan calling on President Obama to use Executive Actions to make the federal government a “model employer” by further raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour with decent benefits, and giving federal contract workers the right to collectively bargain.

Please sign this Good Jobs Nation Petition:

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National Day of Action to Stop US Mail Delays

Starting next year, Republicans will be forcing big cutbacks in mail service so they can say government doesn’t work, and make the case for privatizing our U.S. Postal Service. Friday is a day of action to tell Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the USPS Board of Governors: Stop Delaying America’s Mail!

Republicans have been trying to force the Post Office – USPS – out of business.

  • They passed a law required the USPS to pre-fund all pensions for the next 75 years – for potential employees who are not born yet.
  • Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to “break even” – in other words, to make money from providing a service to We the People. (Note: The Department of Defense is certainly not required to break even.)
  • While requiring them to break even, they said the USPS can’t do a number of things to help them compete with FedEx, UPS and others. The Postal Service can’t raise rates at will but has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. For the price of a 49-cent stamp, you can send a letter from a small town in Alaska across the country to a farm in Maine. (And in a democracy, this is a good thing!)
  • Republicans have blocked the Postal Service from entering new lines of business. They forced them to remove copying machines. They blocked them from setting up a secure online system that allowed Americans to make monthly bill payments. This is because the Postal Service would have advantages over companies like FedEx and UPS. In other words, they are being hamstrung, while required to break even.
  • And then after hamstringing the Postal Service – requiring them to pre-fund pensions for 75 years and deliver a first-class letter across the country for less than half a dollar – Republicans say this is an example of how government doesn’t work.

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Reagan Set Up The Death Of The Middle Class, But China Was The Clincher

Campaign for America’s Future’s 2010 Reagan Revolution Home To Roost series, especially the post Reagan Revolution Home To Roost — In Charts described the beginning of the great decoupling of the American economy from the middle class.

The summary:

Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then.

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Full Employment Is More Than Possible – It Is Essential

Progressives have not only been able to beat back the D.C.-elite effort to cut Social Security, we put the idea of expanding Social Security on the table instead. We pushed LGBT rights and gay marriage and have won significant victories. Sunday’s Climate March will force climate onto the map.

We got the discussion of income inequality going. We have achieved minimum wage increases and paid sick days in several cities and states. The National Labor Relations Board is functioning and we even saw labor-movement gains in the South this week. We have held back (so far) the drumbeat for big cuts in corporate taxes they’re calling “tax reform.”

Now it’s time to put our demand for full employment policies on the table. And guess what – it’s a great way to win elections!

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Senate Republicans Filibuster Equal Pay For Women (Again)

Republicans in the Senate on Monday unanimously filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. Did you see this on the news? Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you read about it in your local paper? There is an election coming and accurate, objective information is essential for democracy to function.

The Paycheck Fairness Act “amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages.” It “revises the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience.”

To sum up, it would put in place measures to ensure that women will be paid the same as men if they do the same work.

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Anti-Union, Low-Wage States Spend More On “Safety-Net” Help

A study from Labor and Employment Relations professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois-Urbana and policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute Frank Manzo IV showed that states with anti-union “right-to-work” laws have lower tax revenue, and have to spend more on government assistance to the poor as a result.

The study, titled, “Free-Rider States,” found that legislation supporting workers’ right to organize increases wages and reduces income inequality. As a result, collective bargaining states have higher incomes and less inequality. States with “right-to-work” laws have lower wages. These lower wages mean lower state income tax revenue, a slower economy in those states, and higher demand for government “safety-net” services.

Our study found that right-to-work laws weaken state economies and strain public budgets. Right-to-work laws not only sap government revenue in the form of reduced tax receipts, but they also increase government spending in outlays for food stamps and the earned income tax credit.”

The study found that right-to-work laws:

  • Reduce worker income by 3.2 percent on average.
  • Lower both the share of workers covered by a health insurance plan (by 3.5 percent), and the share of workers covered by a pension plan (by 3 percent).
  • Reduce union membership rates by 9.6 percent.
  • Increase the employment rate (by 0.4 percent), but at the expense of a lower labor force participation rate (by 0.5 percent).

The study also found that workers in right-to-work states account for just 37.4 percent of all federal income tax revenues, but receive 41.9 percent of all non-health, non-retirement government assistance. This means that the better-paid people in union-friendly states are paying more taxes to subsidizing the low-wage earners in the right-to-work states.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.