The worst disconnect in American politics is between what presidential candidates say about trade policy and what presidents do. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama decried “a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers.” Not a lot of specifics, but great characterization. Unfortunately, Obama now wants congressional approval of a trade promotion authority in order to “fast-track” passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which Global Trade Watch’s Lori Wallach refers to as “NAFTA on steroids.” Labor and environmental groups warn that the fast-track dodge will prevent precisely the oversight and amendments that are needed to protect workers and communities in the United States and abroad.
Prospective 2016 Democratic candidates have responded with equally lofty rhetoric but unequal degrees of specificity. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is reportedly in the final stages of deciding whether to run, is absolutely opposed to fast track. “This job-killing trade deal has been negotiated in secret. It was drafted with input by special interests and corporate lobbyists but not from the elected representatives of the American people,” says Sanders. “Instead of rubber stamping the agreement, Congress and the public deserve a fair chance to learn what’s in the proposal.”
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley opposes fast track and says, “I’m for trade, and I’m for good trade deals, but I’m against bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Hillary Clinton sounds strong on the issue, with her campaign saying, “The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade’s sake.”
But wait, Clinton’s taken no stand on fast track. Rather, she’s “watching closely” as the debate unfolds. “It’s not a question of watching this,” complains Sanders. “Are you on the side of working people who would suffer as a result of this disastrous trade agreement, and seeing their jobs go to China or Mexico, or are you on the side of corporate America?”
Sanders is right to seek specifics. And he is right to press Clinton to make a “which side are you on?” choice.