[Ip-health] Huffington Post: Bernie Sanders' Brutal Letter On Obama's Trade Pact Foreshadows 2016 Democratic Clash

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jan 9 02:10:53 PST 2015


WASHINGTON -- Progressive unrest over free trade policies is shaping up to
be a major issue in the contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential
nomination, if a strongly worded letter
<http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/sandersustrletter.pdf> from Sen.
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to the top Obama administration trade official is
any sign.

Sanders has been considering
presidential run for months
Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another progressive favorite often
mentioned as a potential 2016 contender, Sanders has been critical
the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major U.S. pact being negotiated with 11
Pacific nations, which Sanders says will exacerbate income inequality and
erode important regulations.

The letter Sanders sent on Monday to U.S. Trade Representative Michael
Froman criticizes secrecy standards that Froman's office imposes on the TPP

"I have been very concerned that up to this date the text of this agreement
has not been made public," Sanders wrote. "The only text that I am aware of
that has been made public so far has been through leaked documents, and I
find what I read very troubling.

"It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests
who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are
actively involved in the writing of the TPP while, at the same time, the
elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have
little or no knowledge as to what is in it," Sanders added.

Members of Congress are allowed to view negotiation texts, but their
staffers can only see them if they have a security clearance and serve on
either the Senate Finance Committee or the House Ways and Means Committee.
Sanders does not. Members from both chambers have expressed frustration
that they aren't allowed to keep copies of the proposed text, preventing
them from assigning staffers to research or analyze key sections.

Corporate officials have access to negotiation documents through USTR
advisory committees, where they significantly outnumber representatives of
organized labor, environmental advocates and academic experts. The U.S.
Chamber of Commerce -- the top lobbying group for corporate America and a
consistent backer of Republican politicians -- is a strong TPP supporter.

USTR told HuffPost it had ramped up congressional outreach, and has held
nearly 1,600 meetings on Capitol Hill over the trade pact.

“Senator Sanders, like all Members of Congress, has full access to the
draft TPP negotiating text and we look forward to working with him to
review it," USTR spokesman Trevor Kincaid said. "Members of Congress, labor
unions, non-profits, and environmentalists have all played an important
role in shaping our approach to our trade policy. This includes Senator
Sanders, whose input USTR has received on a dozen occasions on issues
ranging from clean energy manufacturing to cheese."

In his letter, Sanders requests a copy of the draft text that he and his
staff can analyze. If Froman, the top USTR official, turns down his
request, Sanders said he'd respond by introducing a bill that would require
any trade talks be made public at the request of a member of Congress.

But it's the tone of the letter that sends the strongest message,
particularly to a Democratic administration. Sanders calls TPP secrecy
"incomprehensible" and "simply unacceptable." He quotes the Constitution,
suggesting that USTR is overstepping its authority. The letter is
essentially a threat to antagonize Froman with the legislative process if
he doesn't comply with Sanders' request. It also is a clear declaration
that if Sanders runs for president, trade will be a major part of his
campaign platform.

Trade hasn't occupied the national spotlight since the Clinton years -- a
phenomenon that elevates its potency in a Democratic primary likely to
include Hillary Clinton, who was involved in TPP talks while secretary of
state under Obama. And President Bill Clinton's economic legacy is at the
heart of the only major intra-party rift currently dividing Democrats: What
to do about Wall Street. The Clinton presidency signaled the Democratic
Party's full embrace of the financial elite, reversing the tough-on-banks
platform implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt under the New Deal. To
Clinton's liberal critics, he had converted to GOP orthodoxy on economic

Casting the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade
Organization treaties, and Obama's TPP, as similar gifts to corporate
insiders would be politically potent in a Democratic primary. Warren has
said repeatedly that sheisn't running for president
but her own attacks on TPP have taken precisely this approach. In December,
Warren sent a letter of her own to Froman, asking him to prevent foreign
corporations from using TPP to challenge domestic laws and regulations
before an international tribunal. Granting companies this political power,
she said, posed significant risks for financial regulation.


Plenty of Democrats in Congress support NAFTA-style free trade pacts,
arguing that they encourage economic growth and make goods cheaper for U.S.
consumers. But with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the
overwhelming majority of House Democrats opposed to TPP, the pact's
Democratic supporters kept quiet in the face of what appeared to be not
just a bruising battle, but a losing one. Those calculations have changed
since the GOP won control of the Senate and Obama announced his plans to
push hard on the deal. The attacks from Sanders and Warren, however,
indicate that the fight is going to be intense, whatever the result.

"Sixteen hundred meetings is great," said one Democratic congressional
aide. "So is one copy of the deal."

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