Obama Says Critics Of Trade Deal Sound Like Palin Touting Death Panels

Dave Johnson

President Obama, speaking to the Organizing for America (OFA) Summit Thursday, said that people who have concerns about the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority process and the still-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “don’t know what they’re talking about,” and compared them to conservatives like Sarah Palin, who claimed that the Obamacare health care reform contained “death panels.”

Then, on a Friday conference call with reporters the President complained about people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders saying, “Every single one of the critics who I hear saying, ‘this is a secret deal,’ or send out emails to their fundraising base saying they’re working to prevent this secret deal, can walk over today and read the text of the agreement. There’s nothing secret about it.”

In fact, the TPP is still secret, but parts of it have leaked. It will remain secret from the public until shortly before it is voted on in Congress.

The “death panel” remark is reported in The Hill, “Obama: Liberal trade critics ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’”:

Obama is ramping up his sales pitch to Democrats, many of whom oppose trade promotion authority bills because they worry new deals with European and Asian nations would hurt American workers.

They also say the administration has not been transparent in sharing details of the trade proposals.

Obama dismissed those claims, comparing them to talk about “death panels” during the ObamaCare debate, a phrase coined by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

“Someone coming up with a slogan like ‘death panels’ doesn’t mean it’s true,” he said. “The same thing is true on this. Look at the facts, don’t just throw a bunch of stuff out there.”

Democrats Not Happy

The President’s alignment with Republicans, Wall Street, and corporate lobbying organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, and against progressives, labor, and almost all Democrats to push TPP is frustrating Democrats across the board. The Huffington Post reports on this in “Democrats’ Frustration With Obama Boils Over In Trade Battle”:

Calling it “maddening,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters that the Obama administration was putting on a full-court press unlike anything Democrats have ever seen in his presidency in order to win the authority to fast track enormous trade deals.

“I think if you could get my colleagues to be honest, on the Democratic side, with you — and I think you can mostly — they will say they’ve been talked to, approached, lobbied and maybe cajoled by more cabinet members on this issue than any issue since Barack Obama’s been president,” Brown said.

… “I wish they put the same effort into minimum wage. I wish they put the same effort into Medicare at 55. I wish they put the same effort into some consumer strengthening on Dodd-Frank,” Brown said.

Casey added that he thought it would be better if the administration took “that intensity to lobby folks on trade” and applied it to the Democrats’ efforts to focus on the middle class.

“My God, we should be spending our time on that, not having the debate we’re having,” Casey said.

Progressives like Adam Green are furious about the President’s remarks, as Alex Seitz-Wald reports in, “Liberals furious with Obama’s trade comments::

“Belittling progressives who represent the overwhelming majority of Americans in opposition to a trade deal written by corporations in secret is a return to the worst days of this White House,” said Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green. “They are back to caving to corporate interests, forfeiting opportunities for greatness, and, in this case, costing millions of people their jobs and economic well being if successful.”

Remarks like the President’s are particularly divisive to Democrats, because fast track and TPP are supported by Republicans and Wall Street,  but opposed by almost all Democrats, all progressives, all progressive-aligned organization. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and other outspoken opponents of fast track and certain provisions in TPP are popular with many in “the base” of the party.

With an election coming, OFA will be a source of many of the foot soldiers that do the ground work for candidates. Setting them against the progressive “Warren Wing” of the party is destructive to the coming election effort.

Currency

Currency manipulation by some of our “trading partners” causes things made or done in those countries to be priced below market rates. This causes the business to flow to them, hurting companies and workers based in the US, and causing trade to fall out of balance. Currency manipulation is part of the reason we have accumulated an $11 trillion in trade deficits just in this century. This deficit is increasing at a rate of $500+ billion each year.

One example of the effect of this, from Scott Paul writing at Real Clear Politics: “The U.S. exports roughly 20,000 automobiles per year to the Japanese market, while America imports about 1.5 million from Japan. A lot of factors go into the maintenance of Japan’s closed auto market, but an artificially undervalued currency is its bedrock.”

However, Wall Street and multinational corporations benefit from this imbalance, moving factories and jobs out of the country to take advantage of the subsidies this currency manipulation brings, as well as lower wages, bringing the same goods back to sell and pocketing the wage and production-price differential.

In Friday conference call, reported in the Washington Post’s Plumline, in Obama escalates push-back against Elizabeth Warren and other trade deal critics, the President talked about currency manipulation provisions in TPP:

Obama also pushed back on critics who point out that there’s nothing in TPP to combat currency manipulation by other countries to juice their exports, saying the administration is still committed to fighting it.

“We’re still working with members of Congress who are interested in the currency issue to potentially do something parallel to TPP,” he said. “But is not a good idea, and not plausible, for us to get an effective currency provision inside of TPP” that other countries and our own Treasury Department and Federal Reserve “could accept.”

What’s still unclear, though, is what happens if Congress and the administration can’t reach a deal on a separate currency provision; TPP would presumably move forward without one.

In fact, the administration in February said flat-out that currency is not and will not be addressed in TPP:

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Thursday the Obama administration is not backing away from its position that a 12-nation trade deal shouldn’t include any provisions to prevent currency manipulation.

… Froman reiterated the administration’s long-standing position that currency issues should not be part of a trade deal.

And this week repeated this:

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in a letter to Congressional leadership: “Seeking enforceable currency provisions would likely derail the conclusion of the TPP given the deep reservations held by our trading partners,’ Lew wrote in a letter to senior lawmakers.”

The administration also opposes efforts apart from TPP to deal with currency, even going so far as refusing to label countries like China and Japan as currency manipulators as required by US law.

Note that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is a former COO of Citigroup. US Trade Representative Michael Froman is also a Citigroup alumni. Mike Lux, writing in “White House Trade Strategy: Talk Progressive, Use Wall Street to Negotiate the Deal,” explains:

I was on the Obama transition team, but no progressive I suggested was ever even interviewed for USTR. The folks appointed at USTR have all been Wall Street-oriented Democrats, including the current head of USTR, Michael Froman, who was a senior executive at Citibank. Shocking, then, that the TPP is, by and large, a giveaway to the finance industry.

[. . .] This administration can talk all day long about how progressive the TPP is going to be, but if they were willing to be more transparent in the negotiations, or maybe appoint someone with progressive values to be part of the negotiating team, it would be a lot easier to believe them.

All of this only puts increasing pressure on Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to lay out her position on both fast track and the TPP.

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