Has Sherrod Brown started to follow Obama’s lead in the bait and switch category? The Ohio senator has long styled himself an opponent of “free trade” which has become a neoliberal PR term for what William Greider has long called “managed trade”. Our major trade partners have long made concerted efforts to play these pacts so as to preserve trade surpluses, or at least make sure they don’t run persistent deficits. And the dirty secret here, which American policymakers were attentive to through the 1980s, was that US trade deficits are tantamount to having America export jobs (our demand is supporting foreign workers). John Maynard Keynes also saw allowing countries to run persistent trade surpluses as a bad idea, since the surplus nation suffered no near or intermediate term bad effects, but the end-game was ugly (debtor nation defaults or deep recession/depressions, financial instability).
Brown has had a reputation as pro-labor, anti “free market” ideology. He’s pushed for China to be called a currency manipulator. He even wrote a book in 2006, Myths of Free Trade, whose thesis, according to Publishers’ Weekly, is that “free trade doesn’t promote growth in either developed or developing countries, but simply shifts well-paying American jobs to Third World sweatshops.”
A year ago, Brown joined with labor leaders on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, seeking “to prevent another NAFTA-style agreement from undermining Ohio manufacturing and automotive jobs.” In a speech earlier this month, he insisted that currencies be addressed before any trade deals be finalized.
But Brown caved on a critical trade-related vote on the Senate floor on Wednesday. He voted for Obama’s pick for the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman. Froman, a Harvard law school classmate of Obama, apparently has the dubious distinction of introducing Obama to Bob Rubin. Fromon’s resume shows how he rode on Rubin’s coattails, working in the Treasury under Rubin and then moving to a cushy sinceure as a managing director at Citigroup before he became one of twelve members of Obama’s transition team.
By contrast, trade has not been one of Elizabeth Warren’s big issues, but she’s apparently become aware of the real aim of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the parallel European trade negotiations underway, which is to gut regulation, particularly financial services regulation, and to strengthen intellectual property protections. (Of course, the fact that Fromon is a hard core Rubinite may have tipped her off too).
Warren explained why she was voting against Fromon:
Here is the key part of her remarks:
For months, the Trade Representative who negotiates on our behalf has been unwilling to provide any public access to the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations. The composite bracketed text includes proposed language from the United States and also other countries, and it serves as the focal point for negotiations. The Trade Representative has allowed Members of Congress to access the text, and I appreciate that. But that is no substitute for public transparency.
I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.
I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too.
I asked the President’s nominee to be Trade Representative — Michael Froman – three questions: First, would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text? Or second, if not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision. (Note: Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.)
Third, I asked Mr. Froman if he would provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office’s outside advisors. Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information, and the roster includes a wide diversity of industry representatives and some labor and NGO representatives too. But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see the same things, and I think that’s a real problem.
Mr. Froman’s response was clear: No, no, no.
Even though the vote was 93 in favor and only four nays, it’s noteworthy that Warren was joined by Carl Levin (along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin).
Even though this is not the most earth-shaking vote, it’s still important because Warren showed some backbone outside the area she’s staked out as hers. She’s getting a lot of heat from insiders and is taking a risk by going after Obama on trade in addition to finance. Brown, by contrast, ought to be embarrassed.
While I am sometimes put off by the cultishness of Warren enthusiasts, she’s made great use of the bully pulpit of her office and been punching above her weight. She just showed some guts on a principled vote with not much apparent upside for her. It would be nice to send her an “atta girl” e-mail for standing up to Obama on this vote.