In addition to education, another area where you can see the President and the Republicans in Congress agreeing is on the issue of trade. One of the first international figures Obama talked to on Election Day was the President of South Korea, and he assured him that the US was working on passing a free trade agreement between the two countries.
Obama and a few Republicans may agree, but I’d be hard-pressed to find any Democrats to join them, including the Blue Dogs. For all his obvious faults, Heath Shuler is a fair trader. So was the majority of the 111th House of Representatives, as evidenced by the vote on the Chinese currency bill, which had the support of 99 Republicans, most of whom remain in the House. A new report from Public Citizen shows that 205 Democratic and Republican candidates used fair trade and anti-outsourcing messaging in their election campaigns. Only 37 candidates campaigned as pro-NAFTA free traders, and half of them lost.
“That Democrats and GOP alike ran against the trade policy status quo highlights the intensity of public ire about our job exporting trade policy – a phenomenon also seen in national polls. It also reveals the trouble that the White House and GOP leaders will face if they try to pass the leftover Bush trade pacts with Korea, Colombia and Panama, to say nothing of the threat such a move would cause to President Obama’s reelection in 2012,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Freshmen GOP congressmen being asked by their leadership to support trade agreements most Americans consider job-killers undoubtedly will have the foreseeable 2012 Democratic attack ads in mind.”
The whole report is pretty interesting. And there’s plenty of data to suggest that more bad trade deals will kill Democrats, specifically in the new battlegrounds of the Midwest. Labor had more trouble that usual in this region. While the WSJ fudges the numbers a bit (labor doesn’t expect 100% Dem support from the rank and file, and the exit polls surveyed union households and not union members this time, skewing the numbers), there’s no question that bad economic conditions and a feeling of abandonment hurt support for the Dems among union households, and a bunch of corporate-written trade deals would only make that worse.
As for the newcomers, the Tea Party candidates, a good deal of incoming freshman Republicans from the class of ’10 ran on “reforming trade policies.” They’re going to have a real choice to make.
Tea Party members absolutely despise “free trade” agreements that have forced companies to close factories and ship jobs out of the country. They want to see “Made In America” in stores again. But the D.C. insiders, backed by big money from the big, monopolist, multinational corporations, insist on even more of these agreements. Which way will the Tea Party officeholders go?
Next up: the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The D.C. insiders want this one bad. Tea Party supporters do not want any more of these job-sucking one-sided agreements. Who will win? Negotiated by Bush, this is another one-sided agreement, letting Korea export like crazy to the U.S., but not addressing non-tariff barriers that Korea places on bringing U.S.-made goods into their country. (Korea places regulatory and tax barriers to limit imports along with tariff barriers that the trade agreement addresses. So in effect we would be removing our tariff barriers on Korean imports, while they keep their other barriers to our exports.)
I suspect the officeholders will go where their minders tell them, but they won’t necessarily have the back-up from big business, at least not manufacturing. Ford, the only car company that didn’t require a rescue, ran a blistering attack today on the Korea FTA, along with this copy:
We believe in free trade, and this isn’t it. In fact, Ford has supported every trade agreement approved by Congress since 1965 – except this one.
If the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement isn’t fixed, it would allow Korea to remain one of the most closed automotive markets in the world. Today, less than 5 percent of all cars sold in Korea are made outside of that country. The simple fact is that Korea shuts out most auto imports, including vehicles from the US, Japan and Germany. American-made cars can compete and win globally, but we can’t afford a future with more closed markets to American exports. That’s why Ford strongly supports efforts to fix the Korea Agreement. Americans should expect nothing less.
That’s a pretty stark attack on the FTA by Ford, and they’ve supplemented it with all kinds of other information. More here.
The President may think the numbers are on his side to “move forward” with a neoliberal trade agenda, but I’m not so sure.