Free Trade Agreementsby Representative Mark Pocan
Posted on 2015-01-27
POCAN. Thank you, Representative Tonko, for your leadership. I
really enjoyed working with you over the last several years. We are
actually getting to the point that it looks like this may be coming to
a vote in Congress.
This is perfect timing, with another round of negotiations upon us. I am so glad we are on the floor tonight talking about this and trying to channel the energy from the gentlewoman from Connecticut. I love her passion.
This is an issue that goes far back for me. When I was 23, I started a small business in Madison, Wisconsin, a specialty printing business. One of the things we did is source American-made and union-made products. We screen-printed T-shirts and did promotional items like pens and lapel pins we wear as Members of Congress, all things that were done in the United States.
Over the last almost 28 years, trade deal after trade deal, I have watched the number of products made in the United States diminish. T- shirts, it is almost impossible to find a mill that still makes T- shirts and apparel in the United States. Almost everything is done in other countries or overseas, things like pens and our emblem pins. It is almost impossible to find American-made pens.
In my area, just 45 minutes south from Madison, is the city of Janesville, where Representative Paul Ryan is from and represents. That town used to have a thousand good, family-supporting wages at a company called Parker Pen which made quality, American-made pens. At one point, that was a thousand jobs in that region.
With trade deal after trade deal, finally, a few years ago, we watched the last 150 of those jobs go to Mexico, those family- supporting wages that no longer exist in the company. They were then hit by GM closing down, which allowed even further job loss in that community.
As Representative DeLauro said, it is those people that used to make $25 an hour in a manufacturing job who lost their job and, now, the best that might be available to them is a $10-an-hour job. You can't pay your mortgage when you go from $25 an hour to $10 an hour. You can't send your kids to college when you used to make $25 an hour and, now, you are making $10 an hour.
Those are the jobs we have seen all too often leave because of bad trade deals; whether it be New York, Connecticut, Ohio, or Wisconsin, we have all seen the same thing happen across our communities.
As much as I do agree with the President when he said in the State of the Union, Look, I'm the first one to admit that past trade deals haven't always lived up to the hype--I think we all agree on that. We have seen that. We have seen that the jobs promised don't happen, and that is why we have concern.
Tonight, I want to talk specifically about fast-track authority. That is where we give up our right as Members of Congress, which means we give up our constituents' right--a say--in these trade deals. This isn't a Democratic issue. It isn't a Republican issue. It isn't an Independent issue. It is in the Constitution. Article I, section 8 of the Constitution says the Congress has the sole power ``to regulate commerce with foreign nations.'' For 200 years, that is the way it was, but President Nixon changed that when he seized those powers through a mechanism called fast track. It is a legislative technique used to kind of skid the way through for these trade deals.
The problem with that is when we do fast-track authority, we give up our rights as Members of Congress and, therefore, the public's right to question what is in one of these trade deals, the next trade deal that can have even more jobs leave the United States.
We give up our ability to debate and to amend these agreements, and that is what fast-track authority is. That is very likely the first vote we would see on the floor of Congress, which the President asked for in the State of the Union, but that gives our sole authority to the President.
Now, I have a lot of respect and I agree with so much of what President Obama has done, but this isn't about President Obama, and it is not about President George W. Bush and not about President Nixon or any other President who has tried to get these powers. It is about our ability as Members of Congress and the public to have a say through these trade deals.
When you look at this and you think about the history of the fast- track process, the last time we authorized fast track was in 2002, at 3:30 in the morning, right before a congressional recess, to bring this antiquated mechanism into place, and it was approved by only three votes.
Since 2007, Congress has refused this extreme procedure, even after it was getting renamed to try to make it sound a little more palatable.
There are so many reasons why we shouldn't give up our authority. If you think about it, people say: If we don't give the President authority, we won't get trade expansion.
Well, fast track isn't needed for that. In fact, President Bill Clinton was denied fast-track authority for 6 of his 8 years in his office, but he completed more than 100 trade investment pacts without fast track.
We are giving away our ability to actually see this document which, as you know, we haven't seen. There are 29 chapters, only of which about five affect trade, and everything else from currency manipulation to medicines to food safety, all those things now are thrown into these deals that go way beyond what it was originally in place for, and we would have no say in that.
Fast track has been used 16 times in the history of this country, and usually, it is to enact more controversial trade pacts.
Bottom line, we know that the U.S. Trade Representative right now is redoing their Web site to make it more transparent. Here is transparency to [[Page H636]] me: show us the text, show Members of Congress the text, show our staff the text, show the public the text.
If this deal is as good as they have promised, then show us how great it is; but if this is nothing more than warmed over fast track or something else that is going to cost us jobs and depress our wages, then that is usually when this procedure is put in place. No offense to this President or to any President, but Congress has to have its say on fast track.
I just want to commend you, again, for doing this. I just wanted to come by for a very few minutes to talk about that, but as this procedure could be coming before us in the coming month or months, we have to be ready.
We are going to work together, as we have been, to make sure we do everything possible to make sure the public knows what is in this deal, and that means Congress has to have our say, and that is why we have to oppose fast track.
Again, I thank the gentleman for this time. I continue to look forward to working with you on this issue.