Thursday, May 21, 2015

But Then, He Never Has Been So Fond Of Medicare, Anyway

Michael Wessel worked on trade issues with then-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, was an advisor to the 2008 Obama campaign, currently is a consultant to"various domestic producers" and the United Steelworkers, and was a consultant to the 2008 Obama campaign. He has "been deeply involved in trade policy for almost four decades" and as a "cleared adviser" has joined members of Congress and (mostly) business interests as someone sufficiently fortunate to be allowed to read the text of the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is, as with the others, prohibited from revealing any details and cautions information is being kept by the Administration "secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice."

However, Wessel bluntly warns "I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal."

On Monday, Senator Warren's office released a report titled "Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements," about which, Politico reports

Warren argued that the United States has not enforced labor protections in previous free trade deals. The report also contends that countries who have entered into trade agreements with the United States, such as Guatemala and Colombia, have not curbed abuses against their workers.

“The history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. [free-trade agreements] lags far behind the promises,” says the report, which was prepared by Warren’s staff.

The following day, David Dayen added

The Senate will consider two companion trade bills this week. There’s the fast-track bill, which would allow any president over the next six years to negotiate trade agreements and get an expedited Congressional vote, without amendments or filibusters. And there’s also trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a bill that provides federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. Workers receive job training and placement services, relocation expenses, income support, and help with health insurance premiums.

There’s substantial disagreement on whether TAA actually helps workers get new jobs, but Democrats strongly support the program. Even pro-trade Democrats made renewing TAA a condition of passing fast track, and the two bills will move together in the Senate this week. But even though supporters constantly talk up the economic benefits of trade, they nevertheless offset the $2.9 billion in TAA funding by cutting other spending. Supposedly, trade increases jobs and therefore federal revenue, leaving enough money available to pay for TAA. But in Congress’ eyes, some other priority has to pony up that cash nonetheless.

That priority happens to be Medicare. TAA is partially financed through $700 million in Medicare cuts. Sequestration expires in fiscal year 2024, but the TAA bill expands it by piling those cuts onto the back end. Most of the other $2.2 billion gets financed through customs user fees.

While observing Medicare has become "a Congressional slush fund" or as Max Richtman recognizes, "a piggy bank to pay for everything under the sun," Dayen explains

The other problem here is that it fundamentally breaks that promise — already, before any vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership or any other fast-tracked agreement — that no laws will change in this new era of corporate-friendly “free trade.” This continues a troubling trend, identified by Paul Krugman, about not being able to trust the White House’s categorical denials about the consequences of their trade agenda. They said the investor-state dispute settlement process couldn’t weaken regulatory priorities; that’s not true. They said Dodd-Frank would be protected in any trade deals; that’s not true either. To quote Krugman, “The Administration is in effect saying trust us, then repeatedly bobbling questions about the deal in a way that undermines that very trust.” The Medicare cuts represent another drop in that bucket.

Trust me, the President says, though he is much smarter and much less earnest than was David Rasche in the underrated 1980s-era sitcom Sledgehammer (video, below).   But the candidate who vowed to "walk on that picket line" in defense of workers is the same fellow who has been hard at work in trade deals bargaining away American jobs. We "won't get fooled again" wrote Pete Townshend, but Barack Obama is betting otherwise.

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