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SECRET TRADE DEAL - DAY 60: Dems Reassure Bush As K Street Begins PR Push

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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. That deal encompasses free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, South Korea and Colombia, and is designed to pave the pay for the passage of presidential fast track authority - the authority that lets presidents eliminate all labor, environmental and human rights provisions from trade agreements.

Following last week's big announcement that the Secret Trade Deal of 2007 has been officially stalled thanks to massive public outcry, some senior Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are nonetheless publicly reassuring both K Street lobbyists and the White House that they will be moving forward with the deal in the Fall. In advance of this push, the White House is working to water down the much-touted environmental provisions in the South Korea trade pact, while the Colombian government has resorted to attacking congressional lawmakers who are asking questions about its horrific labor and human rights record. Meanwhile, a CEO front-group is quietly dispatching a top political pollster to counsel presidential candidates and senior congressional lawmakers on how to use deceptive rhetoric to make the public believe they are for fairer trade policies while really pushing the same lobbyist-written trade pacts that have decimated American wages. This PR push comes as the Republican Party faces a growing fissure among its rank-and-file on Capitol Hill over trade. Here is today's report.

RANGEL REASSURES WHITE HOUSE AND K STREET OF HIS INTENTIONS TO KEEP PUSHING THE DEAL: Despite the big announcement last week that the handful of senior Democrats on Capitol Hill pushing the Secret Trade Deal of 2007 were temporarily backing off, the New York Times reports that Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is publicly reassuring Bush officials and K Street lobbyists that he is still trying to pass the deal over the objections of his own party. "I-m trying to get this thing passed, with a bigger vote than we would have had before," he said to explain the delay. The Times says "Democrats are torn between important constituencies." On one side are the tens of millions of Americans who voted for fair-trade populists in the 2006 election and tens of millions of Americans who are represented by labor, human rights, environmental, agricultural and consumer protection groups that are working against the deal. On the other side is "Wall Street, high technology industries and other business groups."

WHITE HOUSE PREPARES FOR BIG PUSH FOR COLOMBIA DEAL: The Associated Press reports that the Bush White House says it has agreed with the scandal-plagued Colombian government on amendments to a proposed free trade deal that it says should pave the way for congressional passage. Though the amendments do minimally deal with language about worker rights and environmental protection, the amendments do nothing to address the situation whereby "more than 800 trade unionists have been killed there in the past six years" in Colombia, and whereby the very Colombian government being negotiated with has well-documented ties to the paramilitary gangs engaging in such killings.

WHITE HOUSE QUIETLY WATERING DOWN KOREA TRADE PACT: Industry newsletter Inside U.S. Trade reports that the Bush administration last week quietly "accepted two changes to South Korea-s obligations under a bilateral free trade" that is part of the overall Secret Trade Deal of 2007. Specifically, the White House "signed a second side letter that environmentalists say appears to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would bring an environmental dispute settlement case against Korea" with "private-sector sources speculat[ing] that this environment letter was sought by Korea as a way to ensure that the U.S. will not seek dispute settlement against it." Public Citizen notes that a similar Bush administration side letter was used to render useless key enforcement mechanisms within the much-touted Jordan Free Trade Agreement.

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT LASHES OUT AT AMERICA, WHILE REFUSING TO EXPLAIN HIS OWN RECORD: The Miami Herald reports that as Congress demands the Colombian government stop working with paramilitary gangs to execute union organizers, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe "has attacked his congressional critics for not showing his country 'respect.'" Uribe, who has placed a team of former Clinton administration officials on the Colombian government payroll to pressure Congress to pass the Secret Trade Deal of 2007, "has lashed out at his own foreign-policy team for not pushing the trade deal hard enough." Uribe, though, has not explained his ties to paramilitary gangs, nor has he pledged to clean up his country's abysmal human rights record. "Everything from coca numbers to all of the military and parapolitics scandals . . . is just piling up,'' said one nonpartisan analyst.

BELTWAY NEWSPAPERS DEMAND CONGRESS PASS THE SECRET TRADE DEAL: In the wake of Democrats' announcement that they were bending to pressure from labor, human rights, religious, consumer protection and agricultural groups and delaying the Secret Trade Deal of 2007, two icons of the Beltway media Establishment lashed out in anger. The Wall Street Journal editorial board fumed that "never in our memory has a U.S. trade partner been forced to change its laws before Congress ratifies the deal" - as if America using its trade policy to lift up human rights, environmental standards and labor protections is a bad thing. The Journal then attacked Democrats for "oppos[ing] the pact on human rights grounds until they "see concrete evidence of sustained results on the ground" - again, as if that's a terrible crime. The Journal was ably backed up by its colleagues at the Washington Post editorial board which brushed aside all of the substantive arguments against the deal and the Election 2006 mandate by slandering Democrats as "protectionists."

SIERRA CLUB CHIEF SAYS TRUTH OF REAL TRADE AGENDA IS WHY SECRET DEAL IS DELAYED: Commenting on recent news that K Street is trying to pressure China into backing off proposals to enact better human rights protections, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope writes at the Huffington Post that "the advocates of free trade, far from welcoming [recent] Chinese effort to "harmonize" American and Chinese standards, have been viciously lobbying China not to enact these laws and saying that, if China raises its standards, they will move their factories elsewhere. " In other words, "the very voices that in the U.S say, 'we can't have high labor and environmental standards because we must compete with China's lower rules' are also working to prevent the Chinese from raising their own standards." Pope says, "If there is any doubt that the real story is that these companies want to use trade as tool to lower environmental standards and worker protections, this incident should put that doubt to rest." The recent spotlight on this hypocrisy, he says, "explains why the Democrats in Congress announced that they would oppose pending trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, and delay votes on parallel agreements with Peru and Panama."

K STREET WORKING WITH DEM LEADERS TO SUGARCOAT TRADE RHETORIC: The Politico reports that corporate CEOs have formed a front-group to engage in a "quiet lobbying mission" aimed at convincing major presidential candidates to embrace lobbyist-written trade pacts, while using vague public language to make it seem as if they want to revise America's trade policy. The CEO front group has created a package of talking points "with language and planks fine-tuned by message and polling guru John Zogby" designed to make NAFTA-style trade proposals "land easily on the ears of anxious voters." The paper says the package tells candidates: "Rather than talking about foreign trade, emphasize 'open markets,' which appeals to voters' sense of democracy and fair play." Though many Democratic candidates have taken populist stands against America's current trade policy, Zogby "says there is still time for candidates to adjust" and change their positions back to pro-status-quo. It appears that the CEO front-group has enlisted at least some Capitol Hill support. A June 27th letter from the corporate-backed New Democrats to all House Democrats claims that passing the Secret Trade Deal of 2007 "is critical in order to help American businesses and American workers compete in a globalized economy" because it will help with "opening new markets."

DEM PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES STRESS IMPORTANCE OF FAIR TRADE AT STEELWORKERS FORUM: The Columbus Dispatch reports that the United Steelworkers last week hosted Democratic presidential candidates at a forum on economic issues and trade in Ohio - a state that has lost hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs as a result of America's current trade policies. The paper reports that many in the audience were "pleased to hear the candidates talk about trade - especially requiring that China and other nations abide by environmental and worker standards and reducing the U.S. trade deficit." Said one local union leader: "We need fair trade, not free trade. I can't say that enough."

"THE PREVAILING ORTHODOXY IN THE DEM PARTY" IS AGAINST MORE NAFTA: In an article about the former Rep. Richard Gephardt's (D-MO) endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President, the archconservative New York Sun says "the prevailing orthodoxy in the party now is nearly identical to what he was advocating in the 1990s when he led opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement." The paper notes that while "Gephardt was renowned as one of organized labor's most loyal allies in the Congress, it is not clear how much of that clout he can transfer to Mrs. Clinton." Meanwhile, a top labor official said "Gephardt's decision doesn't signal anything at all about union endorsements." The Associated Press reports that at the Steelworkers forum, Clinton "avoided discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which her husband, former President Clinton, backed."

BUSH OFFICIALS STILL USING TIRED ARGUMENTS FOR FAST TRACK PUSH: The Wall Street Journal reports that in the wake of the expiration of fast track, Bush economic officials are trotting out the same tired arguments to push for renewal. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said "American workers cannot afford for us to hang up a -Closed for Business- sign" - though she did not explain how rejecting fast track and thus allowing Congress to have input on future trade deals does this.

WISCONSIN BECOMES LATEST STATE TO SAY NO TO FAST TRACK: Public Citizen reports that the Wisconsin State Senate has become the latest state legislative body to demand Congress reject President Bush's request to renew his fast track authority. The resolution "becomes the thirteenth such that has passed, echoing the widespread desire for change in our failed trade policy from state officials and the rest of the country." In a press release trumpeting the resolution's passage, State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) says, "The 2006 elections turned on issues of importance to working people. Foremost among these issues was trade. The workers and farmers of this state and nation can't stand for these corporate trade deals any longer and they've made their opinions clear."

REPUBLICAN BASE STARTING TO SHOW FISSURES ON TRADE: The Birmingham News reports that while "a temporary extension of a trade deal won swift approval from Congress last week, within the lopsided votes was evidence of lingering frustration" with lobbyist-written trade policies among core Republican lawmakers from the Deep South. "The natural inclination our office has is that these trade deals are bad for the Third District unless proven otherwise by not harming any major employer or commodity," said a spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). Similarly, A spokesman for Rep. Terry Everett (R-AL), said "history has repeatedly shown that past trade bills have been poorly negotiated, failed to live up to their promise of promoting American jobs and were of little or no direct benefit to southeast Alabama."

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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