By DAVID GROVES
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 4, 2016) — As alarming as this presidential campaign has been, advocates for fair trade policies can thank this election season for refocusing popular opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other NAFTA-like “free trade” deals. However, as political leaders and pundits have now all but written off the TPP’s chances of passage in its current form, most of Washington state’s delegation to Congress are still hedging their bets, remaining silent on the campaign trail about whether they support or oppose the TPP.
As reported in Sunday’s New York Times:
Democrats and Republicans agreed on almost nothing at their conventions this month, except this: free trade, just a decade ago the bedrock of the economic agendas of both parties, is now a political pariah… Opponents of multilateral trade agreements, convinced that they have unduly harmed American workers, have enjoyed a stunning success that may signal a long-term political and policy realignment in both parties.
Last year, if just five U.S. Representatives had flipped their votes from “yes” to “no,” Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority would have failed. But since then, as opposition to job-killing free trade deals has grown, several members of Congress have changed their tunes.
CWA reports that at least nine House Republicans who voted for Fast Track have announced that they oppose the TPP and will vote against the trade pact should it come up for a vote, including in a lame duck session after November’s elections. In contrast, no members of Congress who voted against Fast Track have announced support for TPP. That’s why Republican leaders in Congress say they don’t intend to bring the TPP up for a vote. Said House Speaker Paul Ryan: “We don’t have the votes for it now.”
There are, however, members of Congress currently campaigning for re-election — including some in Washington state’s delegation — who are doing their best to avoid the subject and refusing to say whether they support the TPP.
Among the Democratic representatives who attended the Washington State Labor Council’s election endorsement convention in May, only Rep. Adam Smith (D-9th) indicated his opposition to TPP, while (pictured above, left to right) Reps. Rick Larsen (D-2nd), Derek Kilmer (D-6th), Suzan DelBene (D-1st) and Denny Heck (D-10th) didn’t respond.
Smith and Heck are the only two members of Washington’s delegation seeking re-election who voted against Fast Track last year, and therefore were the only incumbents to win the WSLC’s endorsement. Pramila Jayapal, the WSLC-endorsed candidate for the open seat in the 7th District, is an outspoken opponent of both Fast Track and the TPP. Jayapal easily won the nine-candidate race for that seat in this week’s Primary Election to advance to the November election.
All of Washington’s four Republican members of Congress voted for Fast Track. As for the TPP, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-8th), who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, strongly supports it and is actively advocating for its passage. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5th), a member of the House Republican leadership team, has said the TPP “needs a lot of work” before it can pass — a message echoed by Speaker Ryan — without elaborating on what exactly needs to change, and how that is possible after the TPP has already been signed by the Obama administration and other member nations. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-3rd) and Dan Newhouse (R-4th) are keeping their support for TPP under wraps on the campaign trail.
Outside of Washington state, political leaders from both parties are having no problem being vocal about their opposition to the TPP.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has repeated her opposition to the TPP several times and has written, “I’m not interested in tinkering around the margins of our trade policy. I think we need a fundamental rethink of how we approach trade deals going forward. It is critical that we address labor protections and ensure that human rights are protected, as well as health, environmental, and consumer safety issues in any new trade agreements.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calls the TPP a “catastrophe” has made his opposition to it a central part of his platform, such as it is.
Bernie Sanders has called our NAFTA-style trade policy “a disaster for working Americans,” which has “allowed corporations to close thousands of factories, and ship millions of jobs to low-wage countries where people are forced to work for pennies an hour.”
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman writes that we should spend no more political capital on TPP. Joseph Stiglitz says the promises for TPP are dramatically overstated, and the damage TPP would do far exceeds any potential advantages. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers backed away from TPP, saying we should take a new approach, where “issues such as labor rights and environmental protection would be central, while issues related to empowering foreign producers would be secondary.”
But here in Washington state…. crickets.