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Despite Opposition, Obama Verges on Trade Deal Disaster

by John Nichols

President Obama is preparing to mangle his jobs message signing free-trade agreements that are opposed by unions, by Democrats and by the “99 Percenters” who recognize that the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama approach to trade policy has harmed the interests of working people in the United States and abroad.

The Obama administration said the Congress-approved free trade deals are expected to boost US exports by $13 billion and benefit US agriculture and manufacturing, and will bolster diplomatic ties to all three countries. The three agreements, all modeled on the failed North American Free Trade Agreement, passed the House and Senate Wednesday with overwhelming support from Republicans and minimal support from Democrats. (AFP) Why? Because, according to Congressman Mike Michaud, D-Maine, the president “is going to give in to the Washington elites, once again” because “the big companies and the big banks want” the new trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

The three agreements, all modeled on the failed North American Free Trade Agreement, passed the House and Senate Wednesday with overwhelming support from Republicans and minimal support from Democrats.

Only thirty-one House Democrats backed the agreement with Colombia, where unions note that labor organizers are regularly assassinated. Fifty-nine Democrats backed the agreement with South Korea. Sixty-six Democrats supported the Panama deal.

In the Senate, 30 Democrats opposed the Colombia deal, as did Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and two Maine Republicans: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

The Democrats who opposed the agreements did so because these deals are wrong, economically and politically.

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who is running for an open US Senate seat in 2012, made the economic case.

“Trade agreements should be in the best interests of our nation and its people, but sadly this has not been the case with the past free trade agreements,” Baldwin told the House. “Have some of our wealthiest corporations profited from them? Indeed. But the rest of America, especially the middle class, has struggled with job loss, closed factories, and economic and emotional anguish across the country.”

Citing a study issued by the Economic Policy Institute, which reveals that more than 680,000 US jobs have been lost or displaced due to the rise in the trade deficit with Mexico alone since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1994. Baldwin explained: “I hear from Wisconsin families every day that are struggling mightily—struggling to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, and send their kids to college, especially during these uncertain economic times. The solution is to put our people back to work and preserve American jobs. When done right, trade agreements can help bolster our manufacturing and high-skilled technology industries and create jobs as they increase exports and help our economy recover. Done wrong, trade agreements send these same jobs offshore, leaving Americans out of work. Unfortunately, I believe these trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia will exacerbate the US trade deficit and further erode our manufacturing base.”

Lori Wallach, who directs Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, made the political case.

“It is bizarre that President Barack Obama has switched from his long-awaited focus on jobs to spending effort passing three George W. Bush–signed, NAFTA-style trade deals that official government studies show will increase our trade deficit even as polls show most Americans oppose NAFTA-style trade pacts and recognize that they kill American jobs,” said Wallach. “The only way these deals will pass is if congressional GOP lawmakers expose themselves to the foreseeable election attack ads and provide President Obama almost all of the votes; most congressional Democrats will oppose these deals, which are loved by the US Chamber of Commerce and despised by the Democratic base groups. Apparently, the Obama team has a way to win re-election that does not involve Ohio or other industrial swing states. We saw with NAFTA in 1993 the dire political consequences of a Democratic president blurring distinctions between the parties on this third-rail issue of trade and jobs. And unlike NAFTA, this time, even official government studies show that these pacts will increase our trade deficit.”

Baldwin’s right.

Wallach’s right.

Obama’s wrong—very, very, very wrong.

Signing these free-trade deals will harm the economy.

And it will make it a lot harder for voters in factory towns to support his re-election.

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