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Rosa D.
Democrat CT 3

About Rep. Rosa
  • Progressive Caucus: Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership

    by Representative Rosa L. DeLauro

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    DeLAURO. I want to thank my colleague and just say that we really owe you a debt of gratitude. I know what it means as this is my 24th year that I have served in this body. Years ago, I would spend my days in 1-minute speeches and my evenings in Special Orders, and I know what it means and the kind of time and effort it takes. It is about your values and who you are, and a number of people that you attract come down and talk about these very critical issues, so we owe you a debt of gratitude for spearheading this effort.

    Every generation of leaders in this institution has faced its own time of testing. Whether it is an economic panic, the Great Depression, slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil War, world war, the Cold War, there are times when our country is confronted with a crisis that poses an existential threat to our Nation and to our way of life, and Congress needs to stand up and act. The test of our time is inequality. It is not too much to say that inequality threatens the continued existence of the middle class in America and even the American Dream, itself.

    The question before us now is: Are we going to continue to be the land of opportunity and social mobility and the Nation that forged the largest middle class in human history during the 20th century, or are we going to become a Nation of very few haves and millions of have- nots? {time} 1800 As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said: We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

    The current trend lines on inequality should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in this institution. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in 2011, while the top 1 percent of Americans have seen their income triple over the past 30 years and now make 23 percent of the total, middle and working class Americans have seen their wages stagnate and median income fall. The year after that report, 2012, shows the highest corporate profits, after taxes, and the lowest salaries and wages as a percentage of our gross domestic product in our history.

    The inequality we see in America today is not a crisis because some are rich and many are not. It is a crisis because the compact has been broken that allowed hard work to pay off and allowed future generations to do better. As a result, the middle class in America is under siege.

    It used to be that, through hard work and access to opportunity and education, a working class family could move up the ladder in America. They could buy a home, send their kids to college, have money to take an occasional vacation, and know that when they reached retirement, they would be okay. That is the story of my parents--and probably yours--who worked hard all their lives so I could go to college and follow my aspirations. That is the American Dream.

    For far too many families, that dream is fading away. American workers are being squeezed. Their paychecks have stagnated. Their benefits have been cut. Their homes are debt traps. Their job security has been weakened. Their wage and hour protections have been violated. And the safety net under them to help them on their feet in case they slip is being willfully shredded by some Members of this body.

    So yes, inequality is the crisis of our time. History will judge this Congress terribly if we do not do everything in our power to restore the middle class in America--to create good, well-paying jobs at home; ensure steady, rising wages; and promote opportunity and upward social mobility.

    There are many things that Congress can and should do to remedy this crisis. We can stop trying to savage the safety net by cutting unemployment insurance and food stamps.

    My colleagues have talked about 1.3 million people without unemployment benefits. And the temerity of leaving this institution, going home for the holidays, having a wonderful time with your families--and no one denies that you should have time with your family, but to leave these people on the roadside by themselves with nothing to be able to take care of themselves or their families, that is not the United States of America. That is not the Congress. That is not who we are or what we are about.

    We can pass a budget in this place that invests in our future, in our fundamental priorities--education and job training--but in this Nation of bounty, we can't talk about cutting food [[Page H463]] stamps, $8 billion, $9 billion, $20 billion, $40 billion. It is wrong.

    We can support initiatives that create jobs and grow the economy, like infrastructure, manufacturing, and biomedical research. We can pass a comprehensive economic agenda for women and families that reflects the way that Americans live today. And we can recognize, as Lyndon Johnson did 50 years ago with the war on poverty, that the Federal Government plays a hugely important role in alleviating hardship and inequality, and we should do everything that we can to support these efforts.

    And given the deep hole we are in, one of the most important things we can do is stop digging. Namely, we can think twice, again, about extending unemployment benefits. But further, we think twice before signing off on another free trade pact--the Trans-Pacific Partnership-- that threatens to aggressively accelerate the inequality and job insecurity that Americans are already experiencing. We have seen this movie. We know how it ends.

    This year marks the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and we know how that affected our economy and hurt our workers. So many of us were here during that debate. We cried the night of that vote because of what we knew it was going to mean to workers in the United States.

    One recent study estimated that as much as 39 percent of the observed growth in U.S. wage inequality since NAFTA is attributable to trade trends. Since NAFTA went into effect two decades ago, the share of national income collected by the top 10 percent of Americans has risen by 24 percent. The top 1 percent's share has increased by 58 percent. Meanwhile, the manufacturing jobs that helped forge America's middle class have been aggressively offshored. Millions of manufacturing jobs have disappeared in our country. They have been replaced by low-wage service sector work.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two out of every three displaced manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2012 experienced a wage reduction, most of them more than 20 percent. Despite the trend, we are now being urged to pass fast track legislation introduced by Senator Baucus and Representative Camp to grease the wheels of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This agreement with 11 nations in the Pacific is unprecedented in scope and threatens to be NAFTA on steroids.

    Even the agreement is being negotiated in secret. Members of Congress have been left out of the loop, even though the agreement will create binding policies on the future Congresses in countless areas. We have the evidence that suggests that this agreement will only accelerate economic inequality and job insecurity for American workers.

    We are being told that we need to rubber-stamp it, that it is vital. Nine out of 11 nations in this agreement have wage levels significantly lower than ours. If there is pressure in any direction on already stagnant wages, it will be down.

    And I wind up with this. Harold Meyerson wrote in a very poignant column in today's Washington Post: When the case for free trade is coupled with the case for raising U.S. workers' incomes, it enters a zone where real numbers, and real Americans' lives, matter.

    In that zone, the argument for the kind of free trade deal embodied by NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership completely blows up. Such deals increase the incomes of Americans investing abroad even as they diminish the income of Americans working at home. They worsen the very inequality against which the President rightly campaigns.

    NAFTA has had a deep and lasting impact on our community. It has depressed wages. It has led to offshore jobs. It has meant more economic insecurity and less mobility for American workers. It has fed a rising tide of inequality that threatens to engulf the middle class in America for good.

    We cannot continue down this path that pushes the American Dream into oblivion. And I want to say to my colleagues and others--and I apologize for taking so much time--that we need to understand it is not one program here, one program there. This is a pattern that is overwhelming middle class America. Unless this institution has done what it has done in the past to change that direction, we will have a Nation that no longer has the economic advantages that it has had in the past, and people will no longer enjoy economic security, nor will their families.

    I thank the gentleman for doing what he does and for inspiring us to come down and talk with you.

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