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November 11, 2005

Why I Can't Take "Free Trade Liberals" Seriously

Most labor activists recognize the potential gains for all countries from tariff-free trade if done right, but the reason we can't take "free trade liberals" seriously is that, time after time, they have proven that they will move heaven and earth to collaborate with Republicans to force through these trade deals, but then say very little when their trade allies undermine the programs designed to help out those who lose out under those trade deals.

Take Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)-- under NAFTA, those who lost their jobs due to expanded trade were supposed to receive expanded and lengthier unemployment benefits and expanded funds for retraining.  This was Clinton's and the NAFTA Democrats promise to help the losers under trade deals get a fresh career.  

Yet the program has been repeatedly undermined in practice, and there's been barely a peep out of those Democrats who supported the trade deals. In fact, the Court of International Trade, which hears workers appeals under the program, has been scathing in its criticism of the Bush administration for its refusal to extend TAA benefits to those who had lost their jobs to trade.  

As I've noted in the past, the Court has not just condemned Administration practices but has explicitly condemned a pattern of systematically ignoring the law:

While this case is troubling enough when viewed in isolation, it is even more troubling if it is viewed in the context of other TAA and NAFTA-TAA cases appealed to this Court...There is something fundamentally wrong with the administration of the nation's trade adjustment assistance programs if, as a practical matter, workers often must appeal their cases to the courts to secure the thorough investigation that the Labor Department is obligated to conduct by law.
So here you have the Bush administration consistently undermining a centerpiece of the "free trade liberals" program, their system for transitioning workers into new industries.

And what has been the stance of those pro-NAFTA Democrats?


Go to the DLC's Progressive Policy Institute site and do a search for Trade Adjustment Assistance.  Not a single mention of it.

Go to the Democratic Leadership Council and do a search.

Not a mention of Trade Adjustment Assistance.

So why should anybody who is potentially going to lose out under trade deals be anything but a steadfast opponent of these deals -- and why shouldn't they see the "free trade liberals" as liars who promise to help those hurt by trade, but remain silent as the Bush administration systematically violates the part of those trade deals like TAA benefits which the Clintonites promised to them?

If the Clintonites won't publicly fight for a relatively limited program like TAA, why should anyone buy that they will really deliver on the more ambitious promises folks like "pro-growth liberals" like Gene Sperling make, and not see the whole rhetoric as a bait-and-switch?

Posted by Nathan at November 11, 2005 08:08 AM