OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Ufuoma Otu, (202) 454-5108, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Groch, (202) 454-5111, email@example.com
A renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was just announced. Here is our initial analysis of the Investment Chapter, which eliminates NAFTA's Chapter 11-B, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). An initial analysis of how the full text measures up to our demands will be available here tomorrow:
"The new deal includes some important improvements for which we have long advocated, some new terms we oppose and more work required to stop NAFTA's ongoing job outsourcing, downward pressure on our wages and environmental damage.
Important progress has been made with the removal of investment terms that help outsource jobs and a dramatic reining-in of NAFTA's outrageous corporate Investor State Dispute Settlement tribunals under which corporations have grabbed hundreds of millions from taxpayers after attacks on environmental and health policies. This is a major change: The inclusion of expansive investor privileges and powers in the 1993 NAFTA hatched a new corporate-coup-de-etat-by-trade-agreement model that's been followed ever since. That even this corporate-compliant administration whacked ISDS means a future Democratic president cannot backslide and sends a powerful signal to the many nations worldwide also seeking to escape the odious ISDS regime.
More work remains to be done. Unless there are strong labor and environmental standards that are subject to swift and certain enforcement, U.S. firms will continue to outsource jobs to pay Mexican workers poverty wages, dump toxins and bring their products back here for sale.
Areas of progress include a first-time-ever innovation of conditioning trade benefits for a percentage of autos and auto parts on the workers producing them being paid $16 per hour or more. Terms that forced countries to continue to export natural resources that they seek to conserve are eliminated. Longstanding safety and environmental problems relating to Mexican-domiciled trucks' access to U.S. roads are addressed. Rules of origin that allowed goods with significant Chinese and others non-North American value were tightened.
But, despite Donald Trump's "Buy American/Hire American" rhetoric, the new deal maintains NAFTA's waiver of Buy American rules that require the U.S. government to procure U.S.-made goods, which would mean more outsourced U.S. tax dollars and jobs. New monopoly privileges for pharmaceutical firms added to the deal could undermine reforms needed to make medicine more affordable here and increase prices in Mexico and Canada, limiting access to lifesaving medicines.
Failed U.S. trade policies that have dramatically boosted corporate power and harmed workers, consumers and the environment require a complete transformation. A final renegotiation package that stops NAFTA's ongoing damage and begins the process of replacing the failed U.S. trade agreement model could obtain broad support.
Americans have suffered under NAFTA's corporate-rigged rules for decades. Nearly one million U.S. jobs have been government-certified as lost to NAFTA, with NAFTA helping corporations outsource more jobs to Mexico every week. The downward pressure on U.S. workers' wages caused by NAFTA outsourcing has only intensified as Mexican wages declined in real terms since NAFTA, with Mexican manufacturing wages now 40 percent below those in coastal China.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.(202) 588-1000
"If House Republicans were actually serious about the deficit, they would demand wealthy corporations pay their fair share in taxes," one advocate said.
After threatening to force the government into default over the debt ceiling, Republican lawmakers Friday introduced new tax cuts that could add at least $21 billion to the national deficit over the next decade.
Three new GOP-backed bills would cut taxes for large companies, small businesses, and individual families while reducing clean energy tax incentives to pay for it.
"It's Republican clockwork," the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "Not even a week after their manufactured default crisis and it is back to tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected."
"Not even a week after their manufactured default crisis and it is back to tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected."
"This stoops to a new low even for them: retroactive corporate tax cuts, next-to-nothing for the most vulnerable children and families, and sneaking in favors for Big Oil," he continued. "Make no mistake about it, they are laying the groundwork for even bigger cuts in 2025, and the only way they will ever achieve a balanced budget is by sticking seniors and working families with the bill."
\u201cYesterday, the latest #GOPTaxScam\u00a0was introduced. Not even a week since Republicans brought our nation to the brink of economic ruin, and they are already two-stepping into tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected.\n\nMy full statement\u00a0\u2b07\ufe0f\u00a0https://t.co/W4jFSGiWZ2\u201d— Rep. Richard Neal (@Rep. Richard Neal) 1686406849
The cuts come in the American Families and Jobs Act, introduced Friday by Ways and Means Committee leader Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.). That act is comprised of three different bills.
The first, The Washington Post explained, would reinstate corporate tax breaks related to spending on interest, equipment, and research for a limited time.
It would also roll back some provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) by limiting tax credits for electric vehicles, barring tax payers from using those credits for used vehicles, ending tax credits to incentivize clean energy production and investments, and repealing a tax on toxic chemical waste sites.
The elimination of the green energy tax credits are expected to pay for $216 billion of the tax cuts' $240 billion price tag over the next decade, POLITICO reported.
Neal pointed out the ironic timing of the proposed swap, noting that, "while Americans are sheltering inside to avoid the fallout of climate-spurred wildfires, Republicans think now is a good time to repeal the largest climate investment in our history to pay for their corporate handouts."
"While Americans are sheltering inside to avoid the fallout of climate-spurred wildfires, Republicans think now is a good time to repeal the largest climate investment in our history to pay for their corporate handouts."
The second and third bills would increase deductions for families making less than $400,000 over the next two years and get rid of a requirement that taxpayers report Venmo or similar transactions over $600, a measure aimed at small businesses, The Washington Post explained.
"These policies will provide relief for working families, strengthen small businesses, grow jobs, and protect American innovation and competitiveness," Smith said in a statement.
\u201c.@WaysandMeansGOP just introduced the American Families and Jobs Act to give families and small businesses a fighting chance in Biden\u2019s economy:\n\n\u2705 Put money in families\u2019 pocket stolen by inflation\n\u2705Help small businesses grow\n\u2705Secure our supply chains\u201d— Rep. Jason Smith (@Rep. Jason Smith) 1686342570
However, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called them a "tax scam," as Reuters reported, adding that the GOP's "priority isn't reducing the deficit or out-competing the world, their priority is giving handouts to rich special interests and corporations at the expense of everyone else."
Exactly how much Republican plans would add to the deficit is a matter of debate. The nonpartisan Join Committee on Taxation calculated a total of $21 billion over the next 10 years, The Washington Post reported.
However, the bills extend Trump tax breaks for businesses through 2025, but Republicans have said they would like to make them permanent. If they succeeded, it could cost the government a little under $500 billion, the Tax Policy Center said, and the dividend would largely go to high-earning Americans.
"If House Republicans were actually serious about the deficit, they would demand wealthy corporations pay their fair share in taxes," Liz Zelnick, director of Accountable.US' Economic Security & Corporate Power, said in a statement responding to the new bills. "Instead, they're giving billions in wasteful tax giveaways to greedy corporations, instead of making critical investments in American families and communities."
"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," the Senate Finance Committee chair said of the House speaker's debt reduction panel.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Friday warned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's commission tasked with reducing the nation's growing debt is a "prescription for trouble" that will likely result in the slashing of vital programs on which tens of millions of Americans rely—including Social Security.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently announced the launch of a fiscal commission that will find ways to reduce the national debt—on the heels of striking a deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the nation's borrowing limit until 2025.
While some other leading Republicans have embraced the idea of a commission, many Democrats are wary.
Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, toldThe Associated Press that he views the plan as a way for Republicans to rack up "ideological trophies."
"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," Wyden said, adding that Republicans are "looking at a glide path to reduce benefits."
Biden was loudly booed by GOP lawmakers during his State of the Union address in February when he accused some Republicans of wanting to "sunset" Social Security, prompting McCarthy to shake his head no. A week earlier, McCarthy had asserted that cuts to Social Security and Medicare—each of which serve more than 65 million Americans—were off the table.
However, last month McCarthy alleged that Biden "walled off" cuts to Social Security and Medicare during the debt ceiling talks and said the commission would "look at" reducing funding for both programs.
"I'm going to make some people uncomfortable," the speaker said.
\u201cAfter trying to cut veterans benefits and funding for law enforcement during the debt ceiling negotiations, House Republicans will now create a commission to cut Social Security and Medicare.\n\nIt\u2019s Kevin McCarthy with Pandora\u2019s Box.\u201d— Mondaire Jones (@Mondaire Jones) 1685995803
In response to McCarthy's commission launch, Andrew Bates, the White House deputy press secretary and senior communications adviser, issued a memo warning that Republicans are going after Social Security, despite previous pledges.
"These new statements from the speaker demonstrate that the House GOP are reversing the promise they made to President Biden and the country in the State of the Union, and that to shield billionaires and multinational corporations from paying a cent more in taxes, they very much intend to slash Americans' Medicare and Social Security benefits," Bates wrote.
"The American people—including majorities of conservatives—reject that approach, and support President Biden's work to stand up for the benefits they pay their entire lives to earn," he added.
Advocacy groups also panned the idea of a GOP-led fiscal commission.
"Kevin McCarthy's commission is a scheme to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors," Social Security Workstweeted Friday. "Hands off our earned benefits!"
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios," said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
As insurance giants limit coverage in hundreds of disaster-prone areas across the United States, a Senate panel on Friday launched an investigation into seven major carriers' continued backing of planet-heating fossil fuel projects that are driving increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent letters to the executives of seven companies—American Insurance Group (AIG), Berkshire Hathaway, Chubb, Liberty Mutual Group, Starr Wright USA, State Farm, and Travelers Insurance—demanding that each firm disclose how it underwrites, invests in, and profits from coal, oil, and gas.
The letters—also signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both members of the committee—further ask the companies to explain what plans, if any, they have to reduce, wind down, or eliminate support for current and proposed fossil fuel projects in accordance with the Paris agreement's goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. In addition, the letters seek information about the insurers' climate-related lobbying activities and human rights policies, including methods for securing free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities affected by drilling or pipelines. The companies have until June 23 to respond to the questions.
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios, which threaten lives, livelihoods, and the federal budget," Whitehouse said in a statement. "This information is especially relevant as some of these companies begin to pull out of certain markets because they see the coming catastrophic climate risks—despite continuing to provide services to the fossil fuel industry."
As The Wall Street Journalreported Thursday, AIG is planning to scale back home insurance sales in roughly 200 ZIP codes around the country at elevated risk of floods or wildfires, affecting parts of Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Montana, New York, and Wyoming.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas."
Earlier this year, Farmers Group stopped accepting new applications for home insurance policies in Florida, citing hurricane exposure and soaring rebuilding costs. AIG and Chubb had already begun to restrict coverage in California last year. Two weeks ago, State Farm halted the sale of new residential and commercial property insurance policies in the state. Earlier this week, Allstate confirmed it did the same thing last year.
Unmitigated global warming is fueling larger and more frequent blazes in the U.S. West and elsewhere, intensifying hurricanes and typhoons, and causing sea-level rise, which increases the likelihood of flooding and damaging storm surge events in coastal areas.
With an estimated $582 billion invested in fossil fuels, meanwhile, U.S. insurers are making the problem worse, progressive lawmakers and advocates argue. Despite mounting evidence of the climate emergency's growing toll of death and destruction as well as abundant warnings from scientists who have made clear that exploiting new oil and gas fields is incompatible with preserving a habitable planet, U.S. insurers have yet to rule out support for increased fossil fuel extraction and combustion.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas," Deanna Noël, climate campaigns director at Public Citizen, said Friday in a statement.
"AIG executives need only look out the windows of their New York City board rooms to see the realities of an unfolding climate crisis," said Noël, alluding to smoke-filled skies brought about by wildfires still raging in Canada. "Empty climate promises do nothing but set entire regions of the country on course to be deemed too risky to insure and communities everywhere to grapple with an uncertain future. Inaction and inadequate action are unacceptable."
Referring to the budget committee's recent hearings examining how "climate change poses multiple 'systemic risks' to the economy," Whitehouse, Wyden, and Sanders wrote:
Witnesses have warned that sea-level rise and wetter, more intense storms could eventually make more than $1 trillion in coastal real estate uninsurable, and therefore unmortgageable, leading to a coastal property values crash; that more frequent and intense wildfires could result in a similar death spiral for Western property in the wildland-urban interface; that climate-related losses are making it harder for the insurance industry to price risk, already resulting in insolvencies among regional insurers; and that, as demand for oil and gas declines, hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuel assets may be stranded (the "carbon bubble"). Each of these disruptions could become "systemic," and more than one could occur simultaneously.
The trio proceeded to ask each company how it "evaluates these climate-related risks, decides to invest in or underwrite fossil fuel expansion projects that drive such risks, and prices policies insuring such projects." As the senators observed, "Underwriting dangerous fossil fuel projects makes it harder to achieve global climate goals, and there is little transparency about how the myriad risks factor into industry decisions."
"Given the threat that climate change poses to both the insurance industry and its policyholders, it is difficult to understand how the industry can carefully price and manage climate risk in some areas of its business while simultaneously having no apparent plan to phase out its underwriting of and investment in the projects and companies generating the emissions that are causing these very harms," the letter says. "Many fossil fuel projects would not be able to move forward without insurance, and all industries and sectors in civil society have a role to play in meeting the United States' international climate goals."