Obama is desperate to screw U.S. workers

Update, May 13, 2015: The drama of Democrats blocking trade promotion authority is over, and for naught. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to allow votes on two Democratic priorities ahead of the bill for trade promotion authority. “Holding the additional votes would ‘not imperil’ the fast-track bill, McConnell said. . . . Though the agreement locks in votes on worker protections, it stops short of what Democrats were demanding on Tuesday [May 12]: A guarantee they will become law by attaching them to the Trade Promotion Authority legislation.”[1]

Update and possible correction, May 20, 2015: Since this post was published, Michael Wessel has explained in fuller detail the secrecy surrounding the TransPacific Partnership.[2] In what follows, I suggest that Senator Rand Paul is half-right about this. It is possible I should have said he may be more than half-right. The trouble is that Wessel is able to write based on his own experience as a “cleared advisor,” in which he has access to much, but apparently not all, of the text of the proposed agreement. He appears to assume but does not explicitly state that lawmakers have comparable access. So it is possible that lawmakers have more or less access than Wessel describes.

Update, May 22, 2015: The Senate approved Trade Promotion Authority today, sending the bill to the House of Representatives. Both the currency manipulation and Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism amendments failed.[3] In addition, Paul Krugman has come out against the TransPacific Partnership, writing:

Instead of addressing real concerns, however, the Obama administration has been dismissive, trying to portray skeptics as uninformed hacks who don’t understand the virtues of trade. But they’re not: the skeptics have on balance been more right than wrong about issues like dispute settlement, and the only really hackish economics I’ve seen in this debate is coming from supporters of the trade pact.[4]

It has the sound of an obituary, even if, as Manu Raju, writing for Politico, puts it, “The vote does not kill the trade agreement — the Senate could reconsider the bill anytime — but it amounts to an embarrassing setback for the White House at a key time in the delicate, 12-nation TPP talks.” But also, “The failure of the White House to overcome a Democratic filibuster came despite one of the most sustained lobbying efforts the Obama administration has taken since the president assumed office.” Some senators, it seems, objected to how Obama had treated Elizabeth Warren. Others simply stood firm on insisting that trade promotion authority be accompanied by measures “to help displaced workers and a plan to crack down on currency manipulation, child labor and certain trading practices.”[5]

Senator Rand Paul “said the Obama administration doesn’t want to air the TPP to the American people ‘because they’re afraid that if the public knows what we are going to vote on, that somehow that would destroy the republic.'” He also claimed that “I’m not saying there wouldn’t be a time I could be for it, if I’d seen the trade agreement, and it’s fine.”[6]

But in March, USTR [United States Trade Representative] overhauled the viewing rules and put a copy of the TPP agreement in a security office in the Capitol where lawmakers can view the developing pact along with a member of their staff as long as they meet a certain security requirement.

Matthew McAlvanah, USTR spokesman, countered Paul’s argument about access to the TPP, saying that it is available in the Capitol to read at lawmakers’ convenience.

“Members of Congress can bring staffs and take notes when they review the document,” he said in a statement. [7]

Which means that Paul is half-right. The public still can’t see the deal.

“Now, it’s too bad that a Nobel Prize-winning economist isn’t even allowed to read the current trade deal until after Congress votes to grease the skids to make sure that it passes,” [Senator Elizabeth] Warren said. “Dr. [Joseph E.] Stiglitz’s report says that, over and over, American workers have taken the brunt of bad trade deals, and he argues that we need to make changes to restore the balance in trade agreements so the playing field isn’t tilted even further. So that it isn’t tilted even more in favor of big multinational corporations and against workers.”[8]

Senator Charles E. Schumer suggested that President Barack Obama had prioritized geopolitical concerns, trying to limit China’s influence, over U.S. jobs.[9]

But for all this, I still expect Obama will still succeed in eventually betraying U.S. workers yet again.[10] It is a surprise that he’s having this much difficulty. And it is certainly not like he’s particularly given a damn about workers or the unemployed in the past.[11] “We all know that there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times,” said Obama in 2009, as the long jobless “recovery” was only a few months under way.[12] He was entirely too anxious to reimpose austerity, even after a stimulus that was known even at the time to have been inadequate.[13]

Since President Obama’s first term, administration officials have joined Walmart executives for events devoted to issues ranging from boosting U.S. manufacturing to hiring returning veterans, including a series of appearances by First Lady Michelle Obama touting Walmart’s role in providing healthy and affordable food. A Walmart press release following a February 28 [2013] event at a Springfield, Missouri store quoted the First Lady saying that while before “the conventional wisdom said that healthy products simply didn’t sell…Thanks to Walmart and so many other great American businesses, we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong.”[14]

His latest push included a speech at Nike, which is famous for sweatshops: “For years, the multibillion-dollar company has been cited as a case study by opponents of trade liberalization for its reliance on low-wage workers in Asia.”[15]

Just as Obama has been reliably tone-deaf on the economy, he is tone-deaf about trade.

[T]he vote Tuesday presented Mr. Obama what might be a no-win situation. He may have to accept trade enforcement provisions he does not want in order to propel the trade legislation through the Senate, but those same provisions might doom the Pacific trade negotiations that legislation is supposed to lift.[16]

That seems unlikely. “[Senate Minority Leader Harry] Reid (D-Nev.) is now privately saying that he’d be willing to move the package of trade bills even if it didn’t include language designed to prevent currency manipulation by other countries, according to people familiar with the situation.”[17] Apparently the currency manipulation aspect is particularly odious to Japan and Malaysia. It “would force the government to respond when trading partners artificially depress the value of their currency to make their exports cheaper and United States exports more expensive.”[18]

The [currency manipulation] provision could force the White House to designate China as a currency manipulator, which the administration fears would spark a trade war with Beijing. . . . The GOP is flabbergasted at these demands, insisting that the currency provision in particular is veto-bait for the White House, potentially complicating the trade package’s future if it is approved.[19]

Which is all to say, entirely unsurprisingly, that Obama favors cheap imports, as at Wal-Mart, over job-creating U.S. exports. It is as if his response to economists who blame a lack of demand for the lack of hiring[20]—the employment to population ratio and labor force participation rate remain at levels last seen in the 1980s—is simply not to care where goods are bought from, even if the only jobs created in the U.S. are at the most abusive employers.[21]

Reacting to the failure to pass trade promotion authority, White House press secretary Josh Earnest “downplayed the opposition as a ‘procedural snafu’ and expressed hope that the Senate could break the impasse.”[22] Obama may well keep trying.

  1. [1]Burgess Everett, “Senate strikes deal to pass fast-track trade bill,” Politico, May 13, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/trade-bill-standoff-senate-117900.html
  2. [2]Michael Wessel, “I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned,” Politico, May 19, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/05/tpp-elizabeth-warren-labor-118068.html
  3. [3]Alexander Bolton, “Senate approves Obama trade bill, sending fast-track to House,” Hill, May 22, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/243009-senate-advances-fast-track-for-obama-setting-up-final-vote; Don Lee and Lisa Mascaro, “Senate passes fast-track trade authority for Obama, but House fight looms,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-senate-fasttrack-tpp-vote-20150522-story.html
  4. [4]Paul Krugman, “Trade and Trust,” New York Times, May 22, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/paul-krugman-trade-and-trust.html
  5. [5]Manu Raju, “Scenes from the Democratic meltdown,” Politico, May 12, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/scenes-from-the-democratic-meltdown-117884.html
  6. [6]Rand Paul, quoted in Vicki Needham, “Rand Paul to oppose fast-track,” Hill, May 12, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/241748-rand-paul-to-oppose-fast-track
  7. [7]Vicki Needham, “Rand Paul to oppose fast-track,” Hill, May 12, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/241748-rand-paul-to-oppose-fast-track
  8. [8]Daniel Strauss, “Sen. Warren Throws Another Punch At Obama On Trade Deal,” Talking Points Memo, May 12, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/elizabeth-warren-tpp-joe-stiglitz
  9. [9]Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jonathan Weisman, “Obama Pushes Skeptical Legislators Hard on Pacific Trade Deal,” New York Times, May 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/us/politics/obama-pushing-skeptical-legislators-hard-on-pacific-trade-deal.html
  10. [10]Roger Bybee, “Obama’s Double Game on Outsourcing,” Dollars and Sense, September 12, 2012, http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0912bybee.html; Roger Bybee, “Yes He Did: Obama Plugged Trans-Pacific Partnership While Touting ‘Middle Class’ Growth,” In These Times, February 12, 2013, http://inthesetimes.com/article/14571/will_president_obama_push_an_offshoring_agenda_in_sotu/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Dickens redux,” Not Housebroken, August 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=4279
  12. [12]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy,” White House, November 12, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-economy-jobs-forum
  13. [13]Paul Krugman, “Stimulus arithmetic (wonkish but important),” New York Times, January 6, 2009, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/stimulus-arithmetic-wonkish-but-important/; Paul Krugman, “Failure to Rise,” New York Times, February 12, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/opinion/13krugman.html; Paul Krugman, “Falling Into the Chasm,” New York Times, October 24, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/opinion/25krugman.html; Paul Krugman, “Years Of Tragic Waste,” New York Times, September 5, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/opinion/krugman-years-of-tragic-waste.html; Paul Krugman, “The Stimulus Tragedy,” New York Times, February 20, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/krugman-the-stimulus-tragedy.html
  14. [14]Josh Eidelson, “How Walmart got government support, despite union pleas,” Salon, September 23, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/09/23/white_house_rebuffed_union_pleas_to_ditch_walmart/
  15. [15]Peter Baker, “Obama Accuses Democrats of Distorting Facts on Trans-Pacific Trade Pact,” New York Times, May 8, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/business/nike-to-create-jobs-if-trans-pacific-partnership-is-approved.html
  16. [16]Jonathan Weisman, “Senate Democrats Block Progress on Obama’s Trade Authority,” New York Times, May 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/business/senate-vote-obama-fast-track-trade-deal.html
  17. [17]Burgess Everett and Manu Raju, “Reid offers plan to break trade impasse,” Politico, May 12, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/trade-vote-senate-mitch-mcconnell-117850.html
  18. [18]Jonathan Weisman, “Senate Democrats Block Progress on Obama’s Trade Authority,” New York Times, May 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/business/senate-vote-obama-fast-track-trade-deal.html
  19. [19]Burgess Everett and Manu Raju, “Reid offers plan to break trade impasse,” Politico, May 12, 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/trade-vote-senate-mitch-mcconnell-117850.html
  20. [20]Economist, “The three types of unemployment,” August 17, 2014, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/08/economist-explains-8; Ezra Klein, “The politicians-are-failing theory of unemployment,” Washington Post, September 11, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/09/11/the-politicians-are-failing-theory-of-unemployment/; Paul Krugman, “The Structural Obsession,” New York Times, June 8, 2012, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/the-structural-obsession/
  21. [21]Donna Ballman, “Walmart Should Have Listened To Me About Firing Striking Workers,” Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, November 22, 2013, http://employeeatty.blogspot.com/2013/11/walmart-should-have-listened-to-me.html; Daniel D’Addario, “Amazon is worse than Walmart,” Salon, July 30, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/07/30/how_amazon_is_worse_than_wal_mart/; Democracy Now!, “Wal-Mart Workers in 12 States Stage Historic Strikes, Protests Against Workplace Retaliation,” October 10, 2012, http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/10/walmart_workers_in_12_states_stage; Peter Dreier, “Labor Board Sides With Workers: Walmart Can’t Silence Employees Any Longer,” Nation, November 19, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/177254/labor-board-sides-workers-walmart-cant-silence-employees-any-longer; Timothy Egan, “Walmart, Starbucks, and the Fight Against Inequality,” New York Times, June 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/opinion/timothy-egan-walmart-starbucks-and-the-fight-against-inequality.html; Josh Eidelson, “Wal-Mart faces warehouse horror allegations and federal Labor Board complaint,” Salon, November 18, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/18/breaking_wal_mart_faces_warehouse_horror_allegations_and_federal_labor_board_complaint/; Josh Eidelson, “Freezing for Wal-Mart: Sub-zero warehouse temperatures spur Indiana work stoppage,” Salon, January 13, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/13/freezing_for_wal_mart_sub_zero_warehouse_temperatures_spur_indiana_work_stoppage/; Josh Eidelson, “Amazon Keeps Unions Out By Keeping Workers in Fear, Says Organizer,” Alternet, January 22, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/labor/amazon-keeps-unions-out-keeping-workers-fear-says-organizer; Stephen Gandel, “Why Wal-Mart can afford to give its workers a 50% raise,” Fortune, November 12, 2013, http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2013/11/12/wal-mart-pay-raise/; Steven Greenhouse, “The Changing Face of Temporary Employment,” New York Times, August 31, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/01/upshot/the-changing-face-of-temporary-employment.html; Erin Hatton, “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy,” New York Times, January 26, 2013, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/the-rise-of-the-permanent-temp-economy/; Simon Head, “Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers,” Salon, February 23, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/; Allison Kilkenny, “Cleveland Walmart Holds Food Drive For Its Own Employees,” Nation, November 18, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/blog/177241/cleveland-wal-mart-holds-food-drive-its-own-employ%C3%A9es; Paul Krugman, “The Fear Economy,” New York Times, December 26, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/opinion/krugman-the-fear-economy.html; Paul Krugman, “The Plight of the Employed,” New York Times, December 24, 2013, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/the-plight-of-the-employed/; Edward McClelland, “You call this a middle class? ‘I’m trying not to lose my house’,” Salon, March 1, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/03/01/you_call_this_a_middle_class_i%e2%80%99m_trying_not_to_lose_my_house; Mac McClelland, “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave,” Mother Jones, February 27, 2012, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor; Nathaniel Mott, “From Amazon warehouse workers to Google bus drivers, it’s tough working a non-tech job at a tech company,” Pando Daily, October 9, 2014, http://pando.com/2014/10/09/from-amazon-warehouse-workers-to-google-bus-drivers-its-tough-working-a-non-tech-job-at-a-tech-company/; Bill Moyers, “Restoring an America That Has Lost Its Way,” October 9, 2014, http://billmoyers.com/episode/restoring-america-lost-way/; Hamilton Nolan, “What Is Life Like For an Amazon Worker?” Gawker, July 29, 2013, http://gawker.com/what-is-life-like-for-an-amazon-worker-949664345; Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree, “Why We Allow Concentrated Corporate Power to Inflict Violence and Injustice,” Chap. 9 in The Hidden Structure of Violence (forthcoming); Ari Rabin-Havt, “Wal-Mart flunks its fact-check: The truth behind its sarcastic response to the Times,” Salon, June 25, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/06/25/walmart_flunks_its_fact_check_the_truth_behind_its_sarcastic_response_to_the_times/; Robert Reich, “The ‘Paid-What-You’re-Worth’ Myth,” March 13, 2014, http://robertreich.org/post/79512527145; Alex Seitz-Wald, “Amazon is everything wrong with our new economy,” Salon, July 30, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/07/30/amazon_is_everything_wrong_with_our_new_economy/; Alana Semuels, “As employers push efficiency, the daily grind wears down workers,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-harsh-work-20130407,5976597,1009581,full.story; Alana Semuels, “How the relationship between employers and workers changed,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-harsh-work-history-20130405,0,716422.story; Alana Semuels, “Tougher workplace makes home life worse too,” Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2013, http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-tougher-workplace-makes-home-life-worse-too-20130407,0,4926425.story; Spencer Soper, “Inside Amazon’s Warehouse,” Morning Call, September 18, 2011, http://articles.mcall.com/2011-09-18/news/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917_1_warehouse-workers-heat-stress-brutal-heat; Joan Walsh, “Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp,” Salon, December 15, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/poverty_nation_how_america_created_a_low_wage_work_swamp/; Lindsay Wise, “Report: Temp jobs at all-time high in U.S.,” McClatchy, December 2, 2014, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/09/02/238327_report-temp-jobs-at-all-time-high.html?rh=1
  22. [22]Alexander Bolton and Jordan Fabian, “Trade vote set for defeat, dealing tough blow to Obama,” Hill, May 12, 2015, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/241770-trade-vote-set-for-defeat-dealing-tough-blow-to-obama

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.