WASHINGTON – Uh-oh, Democrats are in disarray.
It’s over 40 million jobs, wages, unions, the middle class’s future, and the export of everything from apples to oranges.
In a word, trade. Wait! Wait! It’s more interesting than you might think.
The main prong is about politics, pitting President Obama against the liberal lioness of the Senate, Elizabeth Warren. As usual, we don’t quite know where Hillary Clinton stands.
It’s also about China, the “800-pound gorilla out there,” as Obama says, and whether China or the United States makes the rules and runs the global economy because China is busily forcing other nations to sign trade agreements favorable to China.
As the White House sees it, this is about the future of the western world and everything but sex. But since it’s also about the export of American movies, it’s about sex, too.
Congress is considering whether to give Obama “fast track” authority to wrap up a new trade agreement, before it eventually and inevitably decides to give him a hard time.
But unlike most contretemps in Washington, which has Republicans and Democrats snarling at each other, this has divided Democrats. Bitterly.
Warren and many of her Democratic Senate colleagues, the unions, environmentalists and human rights activists say Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership, currently under negotiation between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations, would let the rich get richer and leave everyone else behind. Warren insists it would challenge U.S. sovereignty. Besides, she warns, the proposed trade pact is being negotiated in “secret.”
Obama said, “I love Elizabeth but she’s wrong on this.”
Do you think, the president says incredulously, he’d do anything to hurt the middle class? Do you think, he snorts, that he would push the Affordable Care Act, a higher minimum wage, work to make college more affordable and seek paid sick leave and sign a bad trade deal? Do you think, he insists, 1,700 trade briefings for lawmakers is negotiating in secret?
Yes, but there’s no exact language yet. There’s disagreement on whether it opens new doors to lawsuits against the U.S. Congress, likely to let Obama continue negotiating on a “fast track,” will have months to review a final deal but can’t change it, only vote it up or down. And what about workers who lost jobs to Mexico and Asia after the North American Free Trade Agreement? Won’t that trend be exacerbated?
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said his response to the pending pact is “No, hell no.”
Obama told NBC’s Chris Matthews that Japanese cars are everywhere in America but “in Tokyo there’s not an American car in sight.” Without a trade agreement that forces other nations to accept U.S. products, from manufactured goods to services to innovative technology to agricultural products, the U.S economy will no longer be the world’s largest, Obama warned.
The president said he doesn’t support trade for trade’s sake but that this would be the most progressive trade deal ever, with environmental standards and best labor practices with teeth written into it. He says his pact would double the pot of money to help workers who lose their jobs because of trade. He noted there is a U.S. trade surplus with 11 of 14 countries with recent trade deals.
So, who is right? Both. Obama is correct the United States can neither ignore nor stop globalization and that trade is essential to U.S. job growth in large and small businesses, vital to leveling the playing field. If we snooze, we lose to China.
But opponents are right that the devil is in the details. Until we see exact language that emerges from negotiations, there’s no way to make certain the country is getting the best deal.
We must trust Obama to negotiate a good pact, but we must be vigilant in assessing it and urge Congress to reject it if it’s seriously flawed.
The new Pentagon chief, Ashton Carter, says the trade pact means more to him for national security than a new aircraft carrier.
If the administration could just work in sex ….
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.