THE BLOG

Secret Trade Deal: Cokie Roberts Says Workers Are "Losers" & Dems Must Ignore the Labor Movement

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

This is another in a series of ongoing posts following the announcement of a secret free trade deal on May 10, 2007 between a handful of senior Democrats and the Bush administration.

The White House now says the secret trade deal will most likely not mean adding labor and environmental standards into the core text of trade agreements, but instead will mean merely unenforceable NAFTA-esque "side agreements" or even weaker "letters" of understanding. A group of House Democrats is pushing a hearing on a resolution that would prevent Democratic leaders from bringing fast track to the floor of the House if a majority of Democrats oppose it. And the pundit attack machine pushing the deal is out in full force. "Journalists" Cokie and Steve Roberts say "Democrats can't afford to listen to the labor movement" and that workers are "losers" who "should not be allowed to dictate trade policy." Here's today's update.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS DEAL WILL NOT BE PUT IN TRADE PACTS' CORE TEXT, BUT WILL MOST LIKELY END UP BEING "SIDE AGREEMENTS" OR "LETTERS": Industry newsletter Inside U.S. Trade provides clues as to why so many K Street corporate lobbyists are saying they have been given "assurances" that the much-touted labor and environmental provisions in the secret deal will end up being unenforceable. The newsletter reports that the White House is looking for ways to make sure the trade deal does not force a "reopening [of] the Peru and Colombia free trade agreements." Business sources tell the newsletter that "they have received signals from USTR this week that one possible way to approach the issue would be an exchange of letters" -- a potentially weaker route than even the NAFTA side agreements, which proved to be unenforceable because they were not written into the pact's core text. This approach is sure to raise the ire of many of the most powerful fair trade lawmakers in Congress. Just last week, five senators held a press conference to attack the concept of "side agreements" or "letters" with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) saying, "If the plan is to offer side deals, then nothing new is on the table except a $5.00 Rolex." To date, the draft legislative language of the deal remains secret, and Inside U.S. Trade has previously reported that Democrats are delegating responsibility to the White House to finalize the legislative language.

FAIR TRADE DEMS CRAFTING RESOLUTION AS HOUSE LEADERS STILL PREVENTING OPEN DEBATE: Inside U.S. Trade reports that "House Democrats critical of the process that led to the announcement of last week's free trade agreement template are still waiting for the leadership to allow the detailed discussion on trade they are demanding in the caucus." Said Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH): "We are still trying to figure out what the deal is." A May 22nd meeting has been tentatively scheduled and "would provide an opportunity for discussion of a resolution proposed by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA)" stating "that Congress should not consider any extension of trade promotion authority unless it is supported by a majority of Democrats."

COKIE AND STEVE ROBERTS SAY "DEMS CAN'T AFFORD TO LISTEN TO THE LABOR MOVEMENT": Millionaire "journalists" Cokie and Steve Roberts penned a syndicated column this weekend saying "Democratic leaders cannot afford to listen to the labor movement as the country approaches a major debate over trade policy." Like the rest of the country, the Roberts have not seen the legislative text of the secret deal. Nonetheless, they claim as definitive fact that "the agreement says that future trade pacts have to protect workers' rights and promote the environment" while attacking the deal's critics for being having "reactionary, head-in-the-sand views." Cokie Roberts continues to bill herself as an objective "journalist," yet in her column, she acknowledges that she is an "ardent free trader" who has "long been skeptical of including labor and environmental rules in trade deals" because she claims "they smacked too much of protectionism." She does not say whether she believes strict patent, copyright and intellectual property provisions already in trade deals "smack too much of protectionism." The column concludes by saying "losers and their labor bosses should not be allowed to dictate trade policy."

TOP CLINTONITE -- DEAL IS "AMAZINGLY BIPARTISAN" THANKS TO RANGEL'S EMULATION OF A CONVICTED FELON: Former Clinton administration economic adviser Gene Sperling, one of the champions of NAFTA and China PNTR, has a new Bloomberg News column praising Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D) for making the deal in a way that emulates the tactics of convicted felon Dan Rostenkowski, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s. Sperling says nothing about the fact that the legislative language of the deal remains secret, instead applauding the "amazingly bipartisan news conference" to announce the deal. Oddly, he cites the Clinton-era Jordan Free Trade Agreement as a model for a pact that "included enforceable labor standards" even though just last week U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) took to the Senate floor to show how those standards were unenforceable. "Last year there were findings of sweatshops operating underneath the umbrella of a free-trade agreement with supposedly strong labor standards is in Jordan," Dorgan said. "The Government of Jordan has taken some steps to try to fix some of these problems. Is that because our U.S. trade officials tried to enforce the labor provisions in the trade agreement? No. It's because a labor rights group called the National Labor Committee exposed these problems... So it's not the labor standards in the trade agreement that got the Jordan government to start to do the right thing." Nonetheless, Sperling concluded his piece by urging Rangel to continue triangulating against the majority of his party in Congress as he pushes the deal.

RANGEL TO APPEAR ON DOBBS SHOW TONIGHT: According to CNN's website, Rangel will be appearing on Lou Dobbs Tonight on Monday evening "to discuss the Democrats deal with the Bush Administration to pass two new trade agreements." As a teaser, Dobbs asks, "Is he selling out America's middle class?" The show appears between 6pm-7pm EST. Rangel this weekend attacked his own Democratic congressional colleagues and progressive organizations who are criticizing the secret deal, saying they should be ignored.