By John Conyers, Jr.
|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
In terms of style and substance, tenor and tone, the two parties’ conventions could not have differed more dramatically. Whereas the Republican gathering focused on fear and division, the Democratic convention called forth hope and constructive action.
And yet, almost paradoxically, there was a common message reverberating through the convention halls in Cleveland and Philadelphia: The system is rigged.
While the causes and consequences of the public perception are many, there’s one hot-button issue in this campaign that exemplifies what people see as wrong with the system: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Negotiated in secret under the advisement of multinational corporations, the TPP gives handouts to the multinational corporate class at the expense of the middle class. It pits workers here against those abroad, boosting profits of multinational corporations while our workers see downward pressure on wages. It allows fossil fuel corporations to sue governments in private tribunals to overturn policies that protect our families and our environment. It gives the pharmaceutical industry monopoly protections while consumers endure skyrocketing prices for medicine.
Despite these concerns, it is an open secret that an overwhelming number of Republicans and a few of their Democratic counterparts are quietly seeking to push TPP through during the lame duck session of Congress. That period after the November elections is when legislators are least accountable. With a lame duck vote, Members of Congress who lost their November elections would still able to throw their weight behind the extraordinarily unpopular deal. Newly-elected Members would not have a voice. And reelected legislators would feel free to take a controversial vote that would please their corporate benefactors, confident that voter anger over their decision will subside in the two years before their next election.
In short, a lame duck consideration of the unpopular TPP would be undemocratic, and would wildly exacerbate frustrations about a rigged system.
As a representative of one of America’s great manufacturing cities and a lifelong advocate for corporate accountability, I believe strongly that the TPP should never be approved. But even those lawmakers and officials who support the deal should recognize that lame duck consideration of such a highly controversial deal would create a crisis of legitimacy in American politics and actually undermine trust in the system of global commerce they’re trying to support. Finally, the specter of a lame duck TPP push could also be the campaign gift to Donald Trump that he and his donors couldn’t buy.
Opposing TPP is the right thing to do. But it is also the politically smart thing to do. Hillary Clinton is running for President in opposition to TPP—it is time for Democrats to unify and help her provide a clear choice for voters opposed to unfair trade rules.
I’ve known Hillary Clinton personally for four decades, and I appreciate her strong opposition to the TPP “before and after the election.” The Hillary Clinton that I know has been a dedicated lifelong fighter for causes—including quality healthcare, environmental protection, and full employment—that are antithetical to the TPP. In voting against the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a Senator, she demonstrated discretion on trade deals. She required Tim Kaine to make a strong statement of opposition to the TPP as a precondition for joining the Democratic ticket. Most importantly, she wants to go even further than stopping new corporate trade deals, promising the United Auto Workers that she would seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement as well.
Trump has managed to exploit the trade issue for political gain, as former Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell has warned, and hopes to convince voters that Hillary’s TPP opposition is insincere. This is despite his utter unwillingness to address the hypocrisy on his side of the aisle and in his own life. He picked one of the foremost corporate ideologues and TPP cheerleaders as his own vice presidential candidate. He’s entirely failed to address the fact that corporate trade deals rely on the overwhelming support of Congressional Republicans—who, by and large, remain wedding to their Wall Street and Big Oil contributors more than to the public interest. Trump himself, of course, personally outsourced countless jobs overseas with his own companies (and first-hand accounts indicate that he never expressed any concern about denying jobs to American workers). If Donald Trump will not sacrifice a couple dollars to make his ties in America, what makes us think he’ll make sacrifices to block Congressional Republicans on TPP?
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has shown her strong capability to lead on trade throughout the campaign. She's gone well beyond words, working with the foremost critics of TPP, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, labor leaders, environmental groups, and other key stakeholders fighting for fairer trade. Trump has done the exact opposite, and will cede authority to Congressional Republicans who prioritize the pro-corporate trade agenda above all else.
It’s now up to President Obama and the very small number of pro-TPP Democrats in Congress to follow Hillary’s lead. Allowing the possibility of a lame duck TPP vote to remain on the table wouldn’t just undermine trust in government and validate perceptions of rigged system—it could play into Donald Trump’s small and unsteady hands, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country.
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