Are Progressives Willing to Attack One of Their Own on Free Trade?
Ron Wyden is seen as a strong progressive on many social and security issues, but his views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership may go too far for Oregonian progressives.
In recent months, progressives have been voicing their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And they might try and make an example out of Sen. Ron Wyden over it, even though he’s been a reliable ally for years.
The free trade agreement, which would involve 12 Asia-Pacific countries—including the U.S. along with countries like Mexico, Japan and Canada—could account for 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of all world trade. Progressive groups say that the deal is no good: it could ship more jobs overseas, undercut environmental and labor standards, and increase Internet censorship. The deal’s future may rest with Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and his support for the partnership has some progressives thinking about going after one of their own in their fight against the deal.
Wyden’s support for the partnership has led the Oregon wing of the Working Families Party, a minor political party that supports progressive candidates and causes, to challenge Wyden in his next Senate race in 2016, the party’s state director Karly Edwards told National Journal on Wednesday. The group takes issue with Wyden’s support for trade promotion authority, also known as “fast track,” which would allow the Obama administration to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership with other nations without having Congress amend or filibuster. It’s also not a fan of Wyden’s previous support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
“Wyden has a track record of supporting job-killing trade deals,” Edwards said, adding that the party also opposed Wyden in 2010. “We have smart, savvy voters. They will take account the entire picture.”
Wyden may be an “ally” on some progressive issues, but he’s an enemy on others:
[Paul] Ryan, [Ron] Wyden back a new Medicare option
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on Thursday plan to introduce a new Medicare reform plan that would allow seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and new private insurance programs.
The plan has some key differences from the Ryan blueprint that Republicans had rallied around earlier this year — and which Democrats had been united in pummelling in Congress and on the campaign trail as the beginning of the end of Medicare.
The biggest difference is that seniors would have a choice between staying in traditional Medicare, or opting into new private plan alternatives, the two lawmakers said in an interview with POLITICO. Wyden is the first Democrat on Capitol Hill to so strongly embrace a variant of Ryan’s approach. And Ryan has accepted more flexibility than the Medicare approach in the House budget.
These are anti-progressive proposals, both of them. Allowing “private” alternatives to Medicare allows “one foot in the door” for the infamous Ryan Budget, and it’s all on Ron Wyden for doing it. Supporting TPP enables job-killing “NAFTA on steroids” — TPP is “the largest accord since NAFTA,” as you’ll read shortly — and it may all come down to … “progressive” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
Stopping TPP Means Dealing With Ron Wyden
Here’s the New York Times on Ron Wyden’s pivotal role:
Fate of Obama’s Trade Agenda May Rest on Oregon Senator
When he’s not legislating, Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, is a wheat, barley and alfalfa farmer in Big Sandy, Mont. That makes him a good bet to support President Obama’s trade agenda, which is generally backed by agriculture interests.
But before he signs on to anything, Mr. Tester said Tuesday, he wants to see what Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, can come up with in arduous negotiations with Republicans.
“Oh, he’s important,” Mr. Tester, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said of Mr. Wyden. “He is the most important person in the caucus on this issue.”
Mr. Obama’s ambitious trade agenda … appears to rest on the narrow, somewhat wobbly shoulders of Mr. Wyden, a position acknowledged by both parties and the White House with some trepidation.
“[A]s the ranking Democrat, what I’ve tried to do is work closely with all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put in place what I call ‘trade done right,’” [Wyden said].
The trade deal sought by the Obama administration, the Trans Pacific Partnership, would be the largest accord since the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] went into force in 1994. It would bind 12 nations along the Pacific Rim to a new economic regime with lower trade barriers; fortified protections for workers [note framing from corp-friendly NYT], the environment and corporate secrets; and new rules to govern the integration of state-owned companies into the global economy.
While some of the opposition to Fast Track comes from Republicans who don’t want to cede Congressional power to “the Kenyan” (they’re calling it “Obamatrade“), the main opposition to TPP itself comes from Democrats, especially progressive ones:
But even before it is completed, the deal is being challenged, largely by the president’s own party.
Mr. Wyden, whose interest in trade stems from his own export-focused state [note framing by NYT], has found himself trying to thread a maddeningly narrow needle with proposals that would placate Democrats who worry that any such deal will hasten the loss of United States manufacturing jobs while assuring Republicans that he is not undermining the free flow of global commerce.
That last sentence means this: Wyden (according to the Times) wants to reassure Republicans that he is not “undermining the free flow of global commerce.” This suggests two questions: First, how does the Times know this? Via someone in Wyden’s office, or Ron Wyden himself perhaps, speaking “on background”? That seems a more likely source than the writer taking the word of a Republican speaking “on background,” or offering his own unsourced guess. But your call on that.
Second, who else, do you think, wants that “reassurance”? How about the billionaires who want “free flow of global commerce” — i.e., “commerce” unrestricted by government anywhere in the world — in order to … you have to say it, further enrich their CEOs.
This is the world of billionaires; this is their big “want” — TPP — and Wyden is trying to find a way to give it to them.
More on Wyden’s pivotal role, again via the Times:
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says he cannot go forward with such “fast track” authority until the Senate can produce a bipartisan version. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, says he cannot produce one without the support of his committee’s ranking Democrat, Mr. Wyden.
Mr. Wyden is no stranger to controversy. He has long seen himself as a bridge between the parties. He teamed up with Mr. Ryan on an overhaul of Medicare ahead of the 2012 elections, enraging fellow Democrats. He tried to forge bipartisan comity with an approach to universal health care that broke with the Democratic leadership but also with most Republicans. He drafted, then redrafted, tax reform plans with successive Republican partners.
Wyden is positioning himself as using his key position to advocate for “progressive” changes:
“Right now it’s kind of stuck because I think some of the Democrats want things that we just can’t give them,” Mr. Hatch saidon Tuesday.
The Obama administration and Republican negotiators say they have bent over backward to win Mr. Wyden’s support.
But they’re both, Wyden and Hatch, looking for what’s usually called “a path to yes.”
Will Wyden Give Republicans a Path to Yes on TPP and Fast Track?
They’re close to a deal. From a recent (subscription only) edition of Inside U.S. Trade, an industry publication. (“TPA” is industry-speak for “trade promotion authority” — Fast Track.)
Hatch, Wyden Closer to TPA [Fast Track]
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said yesterday he may be just days away from agreement with ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore) on a bipartisan bill giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (WTD, 3/19/15).
If the two senators can come to a meeting of minds on TPA before Congress leaves town at the end of this month [March 2015], Sen. Hatch said he will move the bill through his committee in April. With an agreement in place with Sen. Wyden, the Finance Committee Chairman is confident of having the votes to get TPA out of his committee. The two senators have been at odds over how easy it should be for Congress to remove “fast track” legislative protections from a trade agreement.
President Obama, who needs TPA in order to complete ongoing negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership, earlier this week called Sen. Hatch urging him to reach a deal with Sen. Wyden. The Finance chairman said he believes Sen. Wyden wants a deal as well. And in fact, Sen. Wyden has asked Sen. Hatch to move a little bit more in his direction so they can finish the bill. While he has already “given him a lot,” Sen. Hatch told reporters he will “do my best to find something that will bring him on board without ruining the bill.”
Does that sound like Wyden is looking for “a path to yes”? It does to me.
TPP, Increasing Billionaires’ Wealth and Obama’s Clintonian “Legacy”
The Inside U.S. Trade piece goes on to say how important TPP is for Obama and his “legacy”:
In remarks to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the Finance chairman [Sen. Orrin Hatch] said President Obama desperately needs a “legacy” issue. The two trade deals that the Administration is negotiating – the TPP and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – could be that legacy.
He’s right. As I’ve written many times, Obama had four “legacy wants” coming into office, at least on the economic side:
1. Health care “reform” — a privatized alternative to Medicare expansion (i.e., no possibility of Medicare for those under 65).
2. A “grand bargain” in which social insurance benefits are rolled back.
3. Plentiful oil and gas, along with passage of the Keystone Pipeline (KXL).
4. Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
He has two — #1 and #3 — in spectacular fashion (KXL has been mooted by the many mini-Keystones and by oil trains). Obama may yet get #2 (let’s watch those budgets and Pelosi-supported Medicare cuts in the “doc fix” bill). And Ron Wyden holds the key to #4, TPP, which comes just as Obama is close to leaving office.
What did Bill Clinton do as his own “legacy” before leaving office?
On December 21, 2000 [his last full month in office], President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis. Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City. A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York. It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work.
Whether he intends it or not, Obama could guarantee himself and his family a Clintonian post-presidency with passage of the global billionaires’ highest priority, TPP. Sometimes you only need to fool people some of the time, if it’s the right people at the right time. One can always apologize “on reflection” — as Bill Clinton did about “free trade” and Haiti — after it’s too late to roll back the damage or uncash the paychecks. (The question of whether these men are fooling themselves along with the rest of us is beyond the scope of this discussion; but it offers much food for thought.)
Will Progressives Punish Ron Wyden for Enabling TPP?
This is where the progressive rubber meets the Democratic Party road. There’s no question in any real progressive mind that TPP is not just evil but spectacularly evil. It will do what NAFTA did — but in 20 countries, not just three. And it will pave the way for a deal with Europe that will double that damage and then some. (My own writing on NAFTA, TPP and “free trade” is collected here.)
Progressives, however, often have a blind spot for the Democratic Party, and especially for their “allies” within it. So let me put this plainly. This is about power, and winning, on the most important wealth distribution issue of the day. Progressives can punish Ron Wyden for even considering this deal — can tarnish his own “legacy” now — in order to back him away from “a path to yes.” Or they can get played, again, by one of “their (supposed) own.” Which will it be — victory, or another unfortunate (but self-imposed) defeat? Do we go soft on Wyden or not?
NAFTA Was Signed in 1994; Its Damage Is With Us Today
TPP (and TTIP, the trans-Atlantic version), if signed, will do like damage when your infant daughter is an adult with children of her own. Only the billionaires who want this badly — and their enablers — will benefit.
WFP of Oregon is taking Wyden on. Will the larger groups do the same? And if they do, will they kiss his feet before asking him nicely to stop? Or will they be forceful enough to make him stop?
These aren’t rhetorical questions. Our children’s economic future is literally in Ron Wyden’s hands. Will progressives be effective enough to stop him? Or play too nice to win when it counts?