Senator Sessions appeared on Lou Dobbs’ show on Monday to discuss the problems with the deal.
SESSIONS: I think it’s time for us to reevaluate this orthodox view that every trade agreement is good and we should just keep signing on to them. I believe we need good trade agreements that advance the interests of the American people, the American working people and not just capital managers who can move capital anywhere in the world anytime. I think we need to ask what’s in the interest of the American people. That has not been sufficiently done. And I believe we should head in that direction.
Trade is good. We are not against trade, I’m not against trade. We can enhance trade. But I’ll tell you, the day when we can enter into a trade agreement that cost one job improperly in America as a result of unfair trade practices by our partners and trading allies is over. That needs to end and we need to defend the American worker, American manufacturing on the world stage. I don’t see how we can be a great nation without manufacturing and that needs to be analyzed deeply here, I think.
Warning: the clip of Senator Mitch McConnell starting at :45 gloating over how he is supporting Obama’s trade scheme may be cringe-inducing to sensitive citizens.
Sessions also spoke on the Senate floor Monday about how the fundamentals of trade policy should be examined, including the irrational belief of some that “free” trade is an unquestioned good:
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor yesterday regarding six-year fast-track executive authority:
“It can no longer be denied that wages for American workers have been flat or falling for decades. Real hourly wages today are lower than they were in 1973. At the same time, the share of Americans actually working has steadily declined to its lowest level in four decades. The middle class is shrinking.
CNN recently summarized the results of a Pew study, which found: “Most states saw median incomes fall between 2000 and 2013, an ominous sign for the well-being of the middle class… A separate Pew Research Center study shows that the share of adults in middle-income households has fallen from 61% in 1970 to 51% in 2013… the erosion over the last four decades has been sure and steady… If past trends continue to hold, there is little reason to believe the recovery from the Great Recession will eventually lead to a rebound in the share of adults in middle-income households.”
Pew finds that while middle-income families earned 62 percent of the nation’s household incomes in 1970, today they earn only 44% of the nation’s household incomes. The sad fact is that the middle class is getting smaller. This has enormous implications—not just economically, but socially. The size and strength of the middle class impacts the health of a community and a nation in many ways. What are we here for if not to address these issues?
So we need to ask some tough questions about why the middle class is shrinking and why pay isn’t rising.
I have no doubt that bigger government, more regulations, more taxes, our huge $18 trillion debt and the interest we pay on it, and lately Obamacare are major factors in weakening American economic growth and reducing Americans’ wages. But, is that all there is? I’m afraid there is more. It appears that there are other factors of significance that are not being sufficiently recognized or seriously discussed by many of our political, corporate, and academic leaders, or the media establishment.
It is time to begin a vigorous analysis of our conduct of trade. Do our policies and TPP concede too much to our mercantilist competitor allies?
Do their actions over the years establish that they have developed trade and non-trade barriers and systems that provide their workers and manufacturers substantial advantages in the world market place?
It is astounding, really, how little serious discussion there has been on these issues. To some trade advocates, even bad trade deals are good. Many advocates are quite open in their belief that as long as the consumer gets a lower price, there should be no concern if American plants close, workers are laid off, and wages fall. I fear we have almost an obsession with trade agreements. This view is so strong in many TPP advocates that they don’t concern themselves with anything but that we admit more, cheaper goods. That lower prices are good for consumers—and we are all consumers—there can be no doubt.
But, is any trade agreement good because it creates more low cost imports? Are trade deficits—which are at historically high levels—immaterial? Is the continued shuttering of American manufacturing of no concern? Fundamentally, can America be strong without a manufacturing base? Can we be secure without a steel industry?
At bottom, we must ask whether or not our aggressive trading partners, using a mercantilist philosophy, may be gaining unfair advantage. These countries—good nations, good allies—are not religious about free trade. In general, while they assert their desire is for expanded free trade, their actual policies seek fewer U.S. exports to them using non-tariff as well as tariff barriers. Our trade competitors use currency manipulation, subsidies, and other actions to expand their exports to us. Their goal is, naturally, to seek full employment in their countries while exporting their unemployment to the United States.
This refusal by many to acknowledge the mercantilist policies of our trading competitors has gone, it seems to me, from promoting healthy trading relationships to an ideology, even to the nature of a religion.
“Cheaper products are good”—that’s what are promoters say; that’s all you need to know. “Don’t ask too many questions about facts, you’re going to get cheaper products and that’s the only thing that counts.” I don’t dismiss the advantage of cheaper products. But, I have my doubts. I have voted for other trade agreements and I am uneasy about this.
Conservatism is not an ideology. It is a cast of mind. It lives in the real world. And certainly the real world is not working so well for Middle America today. Their financial status continues to decline.
The conservative thing to do is to avoid dramatic and sudden changes that destabilize families and communities further—not to accelerate problems that exist.
Capital is mobile. But workers, many times, are not. So when a company closes its plant in the United States, and shifts production to a lower-wage country, the company may make more money but the workers, and their communities—who cannot move overseas—suddenly don’t have jobs. They are hurt.
Of course we cannot stop the effects of globalization. But we can work for trade agreements that create a more level playing field against our good but mercantilist trading partners.
Many have an inflexible ideology that the United States and the American people should allow for the completely unrestricted movement of goods and labor into the United States even when our trading partners manipulate rules for their advantage. Those truest believers are most adamant about passing this fast-track legislation fast as possible, with the least discussion possible.
But, the United States is a country—not an economy. And a country’s job is to protect its citizens—whether from military attacks, or from unfair trade policies that threaten the economic well-being of its own people.
Any trade agreement we enter into should have a mutually beneficial economic impact on all parties to the agreement. It must not have the effect of continuing or furthering the decline of manufacturing in the United States. It should seek to end trade unfairness and to increase, not reduce, wages in the United States. We can no longer afford to lose a single job to an unfair trade deal. Not one.
But the fast-track procedure ensures that any trade deal yet-unseen can pass through Congress with a minimum of actual scrutiny. After years of soaring trade deficits, shouldn’t we apply more scrutiny to trade agreements—not less? Are we afraid to ask tough questions? Take the issue of currency manipulation: this president has refused to confront this practice that provides a clear advantage for certain foreign countries. His negotiators have refused to put any provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Even if Congress were to force it in, I’m not even sure he would enforce it then, and, under fast-track, there would be nothing we can do to amendment or stop it.
The people pushing for this trade deal don’t want to confront currency manipulation; they think it a good thing. It reduces prices for imports. They say we should be thankful.
Finally, the reality is that this fast-track legislation is a significant vote.
Once fast-track authority has been granted, no fast-tracked deal has ever been blocked. If we want to confront currency manipulation and other unfair practices, our best bet is to have a trade bills come before the Congress through regular order—not as a fast-tracked deal. Then Congress can properly exercise the responsibilities that have been delegated to us under the Constitution of the United States.”