Secret Bush-Democratic Trade Deal & What It Means


Richard Moore

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TIMELINE: The Secret Bush-Democratic Trade Deal & What It Means
By David Sirota
Posted on May 11, 2007, Printed on May 14, 2007
This originally appeared on the Working Assets blog.

Today has been a whirlwind day on the political frontlines in the War on the 
Middle Class, as a handful of senior congressional Democrats and the White House
- cheered on by K Street lobbyists - joined forces today to announce a "deal" on
a package of trade agreements that could impact millions of American workers and
potentially calls into question the entire election mandate of 2006 (I say 
potentially because the full details are still being concealed by both Democrats
and the White House).

Because so much has transpired in the last 6 hours, I'm going to summarize it 
here chronologically in bullet points to make it easier to digest. I've been 
covering it live all day, but figured for brevity it would be best to put it in 
one place. For context, remember that, as Public Citizen has documented and as 
business publications like Forbes Magazine has confirmed, Democrats won their 
congressional majority in 2006 thanks to scores of challenger candidates 
specifically running against lobbyist-written trade policy. This 2006 lesson is 
particularly important to Democrats who, in the early 1990s experienced their 
own President campaign for office opposing unfair trade deals, then ram NAFTA 
through Congress "over the dead bodies" of workers, then watch the Democratic 
majority get decimated in the following election. I want to stress, we still 
don't know the details of the deal, but we do have some critically important 
information to analyze.

Here's the timeline of the day:

€ Mid-afternoon today, six populist, fair trade Democrats author a letter to the
House Democratic leadership demanding a full Democratic caucus debate over a 
secret trade proposal that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel 
(D-NY) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) have been negotiating 
with the White House. This proposal has been kept ultra-secret even from fellow 
Democratic lawmakers, much like the Cheney energy task force. The negotiations 
have coincided with Baucus and Rangel forming a joint corporate fundraising PAC,
and with Baucus's International Economic Summit, where the lineup of speakers 
demanded Baucus support more free trade pacts and ignore the Montana State 
Senate's resolution urging him to stop such pacts in the future. The letter from
the populist Democrats follows similar earlier letters of concern from 
rank-and-file Democrats.

€ About an hour after the letter is sent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has 
refrained from taking a position on the secret negotiations, sends out word of a
major press conference that would be held at 6pm EST with herself, Baucus, 
Rangel, Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Bush Trade Representative 
Susan Schwab. The press conference is to announce a "deal" whereby these senior 
Democrats agree to support a package of pending trade deals with Peru, Panama, 
South Korea and Colombia, supposedly in exchange for major reforms to these 
trade deals, including the addition of strong labor and environmental 
protections. The press conference is sponsored by the New Democrats - the group 
of Democrats that have historically supported lobbyist-written trade pacts and 
that was instrumental in passing the credit card-industry-written bankruptcy 
bill. No progressive Democrats appear at the press conference.

€ Immediately after the press conference, the New York Times reports that 
Pelosi, Rangel and Baucus appear to be cutting a "deal" with Bush that the 
majority of Democrats do not support "Despite the endorsement of Rangel and 
Pelosi," the Times wrote, "many Democrats say that half or more of the Democrats
in Congress may vote against the deal." The Times also notes that the deal 
"paves the way" for Congress to grant Bush's request to reauthorize fast track 
authority - the authority that allows presidents to eliminate basic labor, human
rights and environmental protections from trade pacts. The Associated Press soon
reports that "a half-dozen House Democrats with strong labor ties, watching the 
news conference from the back of the room, later expressed strong 
dissatisfaction" with the deal and the process used to make a deal. Rep. Marcy 
Kaptur (D-OH) says, "The strongest voices for workers and the environment were 
not included" in the negotiations and were not informed of the deal. Similarly, 
Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) says, "I'm very disappointed that Speaker Pelosi 
held a press conference before meeting with the caucus. In a democratic process 
Democrats ought to know." None of the stories include any comment from 
representatives of labor, human rights or environmental organizations.

€ Both a news release from Pelosi and a document sent to Capitol Hill staffers 
from Baucus's Senate Finance Committee about an hour after the press conference 
trumpets new labor protections in the deal, but does not say that multinational 
unions will be able to go to courts to demand enforcement of labor laws - a key 
privilege multinational corporations currently have in working to dismantle 
federal and state consumer protection, environmental and labor laws at a cost of
at least $1.8 billion to U.S. taxpayers.

€ An hour after the press conference, the Associated Press reports that Rangel 
says the trade deal was designed by those who "didn't want the U.S. trade 
representative to be a lobbyist just for U.S. businesses." The same AP story 
reports that several of Washington's most powerful corporate lobbying groups 
offered effusive praise for the deal.

€ About an hour and a half after the press conference, the Financial Times 
reports that "the terms of the deal are still being finalizedŠDemocrats were on 
Thursday resisting making a commitment to seek the passage of a pending trade 
agreement with Colombia. The Colombian pact has been singled out because of 
government links to right-wing death squads, the high level of political 
violence, and killings of trade unionists. The exclusion of Colombia is a 
setback for the administrationŠBusiness lobbyists were less than enthusiastic 
about the administrations' concessions, which were a sign that the tremendous 
influence of corporate lobbyists over trade deals had been weakened slightly."

€ Two hours after the press conference, Agence France Press newswire reports 
that, in fact, the deal includes Colombia and that K Street is cheering the pact
because the labor protections are apparently weak. U.S. Chamber of Commerce 
President and Republican Party bigwig Tom Donohue tells AFP that he is 
"encouraged by assurances that the labor provisions [in the deal] cannot be read
to require compliance with ILO Conventions." This shocking revelation, which 
undermines all of the claims made at the press conference, is somehow not 
reprinted nor probed by any other major media outlet.

€ Three hours after the press conference, the House Ways and Means Committee 
issues a press release that includes a quote from Republican Rep. Wally Herger 
saying that the deal apparently includes assurances of passage of fast track. 
"We now have a way forward on Panama, Peru, Colombia, South Korea and even 
reauthorization of TPA," Herger says. The New York Times final story for 
tomorrow's paper is posted online noting that Rangel is now, for the first time,
publicly agreeing to support an extension of fast track. The full details of the
deal still have yet to be released.

€ Five hours after the press conference, the Washington Post reports that "Thea 
M. Lee, the legislative policy director for the nation's largest confederation 
of labor unions, the AFL-CIO, said last night she could envision no scenario 
that would win labor's approval for a trade deal with Colombia." Lee has been 
quoted just hours before by Reuters saying the AFL-CIO could not support any 
deal that allowed the United States to avoid being forced to comply with 
international labor standards. Because the deal's details have still not been 
released, it remains unclear whether unions will, in fact, be given the ability 
to sue in international courts for the enforcement of labor protections - the 
same ability corporations currently are granted in trade pacts to sue in 
international courts to eliminate state and federal environmental/consumer 
protection laws that cut into corporate profits. The AFL-CIO, like other major 
union, environmental, human rights and consumer protection organizations, has 
yet to issue a formal statement on the deal.

€ Five and a half hours after the press conference, the Hill Newspaper reports 
that K Street lobbying groups are trumpeting Baucus, the Senate's key player in 
the deal. "It is hard to argue that Max Baucus or others have not been receptive
to the business agenda," says a top official of the Business Industry Political 
Action Committee.

€ Six hours after the press conference, Washington Post business columnist Steve
Pearlstein, one of the leading opinionmakers on trade issues, declares the deal 
to be a "major achievement" even though the full details of the deal have yet to
be released. Pearlstein's declaration flies in the face of an article he wrote 
less than a year ago urging Democrats "to take [free trade] hostage" and not 
"give away the store." His article appears to be the pundit class's starting gun
to trumpet the deal, much as the pundit class provided a cheerleading section 
for NAFTA and the China free trade pact.

Here's some more important details. According to my Capitol Hill sources, most 
Democratic lawmakers still have not seen the language of the deal. These sources
also tell me that while Rangel originally promised organized labor that he would
not agree to a deal without a process for labor to review the language, at the 
moment of Pelosi's press release, labor leaders were in the midst of a 
conference call to discuss the deal and had not yet provided final input. 
Furthermore, sources tell me that a group of Democrats in vulnerable seats who 
had campaigned for office opposing further NAFTA-style free trade expansion 
informed Pelosi's office early in the day of their concerns and were assured 
that the Speaker did not have an official position on a deal.

I want to reiterate, we have not yet seen the details of this deal. While the 
secrecy and this information aggregated in this dispatch certainly raises very 
serious concerns about what the White House and this handful of Democrats are 
trying to hide, we have to reserve final judgment on what the deal ultimately 
means until these players decide to disclose their deliberations to the American

Nonetheless, there are very real reasons to be concerned. During NAFTA and China
PNTR, this same kind of secretive process unfolded, with the same politicians 
declaring that the deals were all about helping American workers and the same 
media outlets behaving as stenographers for such declarations - all while the 
details were concealed. The bottom line is clear: If this deal sells out the 
American middle class - as many longtime fair trade Democrats in Congress seem 
to fear - it will require a massive grassroots pressure campaign to demand 
Democrats respect the 2006 election's fair trade mandate and back off.

David Sirota is a veteran political strategist and author of Hostile Takeover, a
New York Times bestseller about the corruption of both political parties.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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