President Obama has Fast Track Authority legislation in hand this will empower him to rush the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal, through Congress to an up or down vote. And other trade deals lurk nearby. But he can disprove Lord Acton’s aphorism, absolute power in this case, need not corrupt the legislative process. He has the power, yet he can refuse to use it.

Don’t sign the fast track legislation, President Obama.

It’s an unlikely scenario, but let’s consider its virtues. If President Obama does not sign the Fast Track Authority legislation, he reserves the right to do so later. By refusing to sign it, he retains the support of progressives, labor, environmentalists, consumer protection groups and more. Sign it and watch the coalition that elected him dissolve. If his only concern is personal, his legacy, he may not care. If he cares about the Democratic party, he should think twice. As for his legacy, wait and see as it pertains to jobs and the middle class.

He claims that TPP is good for the U.S. economy, including workers. His claim flies in the face of history. Millions of jobs were lost under NAFTA, the WTO and other similar trade deals, for example, under the Korea agreement, Korean auto exports to the U.S. have soared to more than 1.3 million cars annually while the U.S. auto exports to Korea are a paltry 38,000 a year.

An implicit acknowledgement of the high cost trade pacts exact in jobs is the administration’s side deal with Republicans to pass a watered-down, underfunded Trade Adjustment Assistance measure. TAA is supposed to aid workers dislocated, that is jobless, as a result of free trade. Its effectiveness at full funding is questionable. This trade adjustment assistance bill has been drastically cut by $150 million.

President Obama claims that if we don’t write the rules of international trade then China will. So be it. What is the difference between rotten rules written here or written elsewhere? One positive difference is that we don’t have to adhere to Chinese rules and can protest them freely. American rules will be the law of our land, but may not be honored or enforced abroad.

President Obama should know that unfair trade deals with countries whose standard of living is far below ours do not promote competitiveness. They promote outsourcing and greater income inequality. Our manufacturing sector has been severely impacted. The new deal will add to the harm and spread it further among service workers.

Income inequality supposedly concerns him. He can demonstrate this concern by refusing to sign the Fast Track measure and by participating in a full, open, transparent and honest debate about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

We note that 58 nations can already bid on an equal basis for federal government contracts. The federal practice is used as cover for governments at every level in the U.S. to do the same. TPP will add four more countries to the 58. No one knows how laws that promote buying American-made products will be upheld against foreign complaints of restraint of trade. No one knows whether laws calling for assigning a portion of government business to minority-owned or women-owned companies will be exempt, or whether they will be subject to foreign protests, too.

All these issues and more deserve a full debate leading to an improved trade agreement.

President Obama can advance the causes he espouses by refraining from signing onto Fast Track and allowing Congress to perform its job thoroughly.

In Solidarity,

Richard Kline,
Union Label and Service Trades Department