WASHINGTON – President Obama’s point man on creating “free” trade agreements, Trade Ambassador Michael Froman, said he’s just about ready to get one of the biggest signed.
Like others who operate in this cocoon, Ambassador Froman is probably a nice person and is beautifully and expensively educated: Princeton, Oxford and Harvard. His only private job was on Wall Street.
Froman, in the vogue of Obama’s people who deal in domestic spying and health care planning, functions almost in total secrecy. Yet he gets to play God with almost every aspect of American society.
His negotiations with Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and four other countries must be hush-hush, otherwise too many Americans would learn what their future wages, food safety standards and fate of their cities and towns would be.
With the approval of the president, Froman has become so obdurately covert that a group of House members is getting ready to send Obama another letter complaining about the so-called Trans Pacific Partnership.
This is not a group of tea party (so-called) radicals. It includes uneasy Democrats like Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo. In polite language, the letter, which had not yet been sent, summarizes their worry: “We believe the process [of talks] has failed to provide adequate consultation with Congress.” Higgins had already written to Obama asking that he block Japan from the deal because Japan closes its markets to automotive products made in Buffalo-Niagara by Ford, General Motors and others. Japan is still in the deal.
For workers who still have decent jobs and for Main Street, a Democratic president is more of a trade worry than a Republican because of the Nixon-in-China syndrome. No one expected militant anti-communist Richard Nixon to forge an opening to China. In the same way, trusting Democrats never suspected Bill Clinton would sell out American manufacturers and working people with the NAFTA and China treaties, but he did.
Obama, who seems to follow Clinton’s path of secrecy and disarming rhetoric, however, has no excuse. Alan Tonelson, analyst for the U.S. Business and Industry Council, points out that America has had two decades of these phony trade deals.
Twenty years ago “U.S. trade policy added to the coddling the massive offshoring of U.S. jobs, production and technology to penny-wage, no-standards developing countries like Mexico and China,” Tonelson said.
And New York State lost another 11,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs last year. Upstate is the laboratory that shows “free trade” is anything but free. Even non-union factory jobs pay 50 to 100 percent better than the food service, retail and allied employment into which our people have slid.
Closed plants pay little tax money for schools, let alone cultural programs. Those vaunted “service” jobs tend to be part-time, and short-term. In stable and shrinking economies there is a wage squeeze. Worse, those fast-food and big-box stores that import their wares pay so little their “associates” have to turn to income support and food stamps, paid by taxpayers, to survive.
One Democratic study in Wisconsin showed each big-box store’s workers needed $900,000 to $1.75 million in taxpayer support to subsist. These jobs provide little to lift the hopelessness in our central cities and pockets of our near suburbs.
Obama and Froman will soon be asking Congress for “fast track” authority to give them a quick peek and pass TPP – holding out a Pacific Rim blank check on your futures for members to sign.
Higgins and his Democratic friends won’t like it. But here is a chance for Obama to quietly triangulate with House Republicans and get it through.
What would Hillary Clinton say about this?