Congressman Phil Hare Talks Trade Agreements

By Karen S. Lynch

March 17, 2008

 

   U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, spoke in opposition to a proposed free trade agreement with Colombia recently from the Steelworkers Union Hall in Galesburg.

   Figures from the “Economic Policy Institute” in October 2006 show after the passage of NAFTA the trade deficit had soared over the past dozen years, displacing one million jobs nationwide. The report also stated there was a $112 billion trade deficit between the U.S. Canada, and Mexico alone, a number that is growing with the weak U.S. dollar. A similar agreement, CAFTA passed with Central America.

   Three million jobs have been lost in the U.S. over the last seven years. Hare wrote in a news release March 11, “With the U.S. economy on the brink of recession – 63,000 jobs lost in February, an annual trade deficit over $700 billion, and foreclosures reaching all-time highs, the American people cannot afford another failed Bush trade agreement.”

   According to Hare, there was a meeting with Colombia President Uribe six months ago asking the United States to have patience with them on continuing violence in Columbia. Uribe has been releasing paramilitary, responsible for the assassination of 2500 trade unionists and their families over the last 20 years. The U.S. has spent $5 billion on “Plan Colombia” to help defeat narco-terrorists and eliminate illegal activity. The efforts claim to have eliminated 500 metric tons of cocaine from the market in 2006 alone, depriving terrorist groups of $850 million in funds to buy arms.

   Congressman Hare is concerned with the ongoing violence in Colombia. “More labor leaders have been murdered in Colombia than the rest of the world’s nations combined—a clear assault on fundamental human rights. The perpetrators are rarely, if ever, prosecuted for their crimes.” Hare said conversations held with prosecutors say they are not really allowed to prosecute and are being stonewalled. “The violence has to stop.”

   President Bush is pressuring the legislature to approve the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement, giving Congress 60 legislative days to approve the act. Hare vehemently opposes the trade deal with Colombia. “I’m not voting for it, and I’m actually going to work against it.”

   President Bush says a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is essential to our national security. A March 12, 2008 White House press release says, “A free trade agreement with Colombia would bring increased economic opportunity to the people of Colombia through sustained economic growth, new employment opportunities, and increased investment. This trade agreement will reinforce democracy by fighting corruption, increasing transparency and fostering accountability and the rule of law. The agreement would bolster one of our closest friends in the hemisphere and rebut the antagonists in Latin America who say the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word.”

   According to a September 25, 2002 White House press release, President Bush and Colombia President, Alvaro Uribe met in the Oval Office. In a press conference after their meeting, President Bush said, “It is my honor to welcome this good man, this friend of freedom to the Oval Office. I have been incredibly impressed by his vision for a peaceful Colombia and a prosperous Colombia. He’s a man who told the people of his country that he would work to eradicate terrorism, narco-trafficking. The Colombian people believe him and so do I.”

   President Uribe also promised to work to curb violence in Columbia. “We needed the support of your country, the support of your government, your personal support for my country to solve problems of violence, economic and social problems…allies such as you and your government for Colombians to restore law and order, for Colombians to restore a way of creating employment, of improvement of our standard of living.”

   Despite commitments from both Presidents Bush and Uribe to bring stability to the area, with U.S. financial support, the violence and corruption continues. Now the Bush administration is looking for a free trade deal to fix the problems in Colombia that diplomacy has failed.

   Hare has spoken out against free trade agreements, including the recent passage of the agreement with Peru and a proposed agreement with Korea. The U.S. is also looking to expand free trade with Panama.

   Concerned about extending free trade with Colombia, Hare stated in March the trade deal is also a matter of national security. Hare has concerns about further losses of American jobs and workers rights in Colombia, and environmental issues.

   Hare also promised to fight hard against other pending trade deals, including proposals with South Korea. “We shipped 3500 automobiles to Korea. They shipped over 300,000 automobiles here and because of the tariffs there, that has to be removed.” Hare said he met with the South Korean labor unions in his office in Washington, who also oppose a free trade agreement with South Korea and had even held up Korean Congress from going into session for about two weeks over this issue, saying it was not good for them either.

   “What we need is a trade policy. To have all these environmental provisions and workers rights is good, except there is a problem called George W. Bush. He is responsible for the enforcement of all these trade policies. This is a guy our own government has had to sue to get one OSHA standard. This President doesn’t even take care of our miners and people here at home and we expect him to enforce a trade deal in Colombia.”

   Hare said we should take a deep breath and work out a policy of what a trade deal should be and bring in manufacturing people to gage the effects on middle class working people. Many of our trade deals are supposed to increase export of American beef and other agriculture products. “Agriculture people are always treated as second-class on these trade deals, if they are brought up at all.” 

   Congressman Hare said he is not against foreign trade as long as certain conditions improve, such as stopping the violence in Columbia and improving human rights issues. However, he feels these agreements must be made on a level playing field with more assistance for American workers who are hurt by our current trade policies. 

   “In the President’s State of the Union, he made it very clear he wanted to see some trade readjustment and trade assistance. In Maytag for example – here are people who worked very hard, played by the rules, made two wage concessions at least and at the end of the day, their jobs take off to Mexico for nothing more than greed when they (Maytag) decide they are going to leave.”

   Increased funding for job training just passed out of the House and is now in the Senate, a bill President Bush has threatened to veto. Hare worked on a bill that came out of the Ways and Means Committee proposal, named the “David Bevard Bill” after a former 32-year Maytag worker (the former local IAM union President) who testified before Congress on TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance.)

   The final bill voted out of the house contains 80 percent of Hare’s proposals. The President said, however he would not support the bill voted out of the House. “I took the President at his word – that he would support the bill. I don’t know which Bush to solicit here, the one who spoke that night or the one that says he is not going to support the bill.” Hare said the President should review his State of the Union message he delivered and support the David Bevard Bill voted out of the House as he promised.

   Hare wants to extend unemployment benefits, give people an opportunity to keep their health benefits and time their unemployment benefits while they are in school and learning. “Former Maytag workers who spent time retraining for jobs, when they finished there weren’t jobs available and their unemployment had run out.”

   Hare expressed disappointment that the President’s budget he is proposing is taking even more money out of programs to assist dislocated workers. “We just can’t throw people out on the street, let their unemployment benefits run out and say we would like to do more but unfortunately we can’t.” The United States is spending $13 billion a month on the war, as a conservative estimate. “To tell us we don’t have the money to put into programs to help dislocated workers to help them retrain and find another job. To give them unemployment compensation and extend it, give them a decent health care plan. I can’t think of anything more un-American than to cut funding to these programs.”

   Hare said, “The Peru trade deal was proposed as a small trade deal. It is pushing one and a half million farmers off their land – that may grow something we do not want to see on our streets. We had an estimated two million children working in the mines in Peru and in service industry jobs.” Hare fought against the Peru trade deal, even with members of his own party. Hare said to one of his members, “What am I supposed to say to Dave Bevard and the Maytag workers when I go back to Galesburg Illinois?” 

   Congress passed a new budget out of the House and Senate last week. The budget that passed restored the Bush cuts he proposed for job training, putting more money into job retraining, although not as much as Hare wanted. The bill added to programs for education, veteran’s health care, and dislocated workers. Hare is urging people to contact their representatives to urge Bush to sign the bill he is threatening to veto which includes the TAA “David Bevard Bill.”

   “Bush says he is going to veto the farm bill. He says it cost too much. We tried to insure 10 million kids with S-CHIP with $6 billion dollars that we had paid for with a tax on cigarettes.” Hare said Bush accused Congress of acting like teenagers with a credit card and three hours later held a press conference asking for $160 billion in supplemental appropriations for Iraq. “We could insure 10 million children tomorrow for what it costs us two weeks in Iraq.”

   “The Patriot Corp” (bill) Hare is supporting for the next Congressional session, to help American companies compete, “We can either pay them and they get the tax breaks when they leave – which we are doing – or we can take a company wanting to stay in this country and expand and help with employee pensions and health care. In return, they get guaranteed government contracts, the opportunity to purchase equipment for expansion with tax cuts and give them incentives to stay here.”

   When asked about the outsourcing of government defense contracts – specifically the Air Force Tanker Contract – Hare said, “I am livid and that’s putting it mildly. I never have believed in outsourcing defense jobs when we are at war. When Boeing can and has made the product and then Northrop Grumman was given special consideration, even though they had some problems in how they secured contracts.”

   Hare also criticized the President for presenting budget cuts for veterans of $38 million for prosthetics and health care for veterans we put in harms way. Congress restored the cuts.

   On the issue of the Iraq War Hare says, “It is going to take 16 to 18 months to wind this war down in a safe fashion for our troops. To have an embassy force there, that is fine. I think it is time for the Iraqi Government to stand up so we can stand down. It’s got to stop.”

Sources in addition to Hare’s recent visit to Galesburg; www.hare.house.gov Jan-Mar 2008 News Items; The White House news releases (Sept. 25, 2002 and Mar. 12, 2008); EPI (Economic Policy Institute) hrw.com Troubled Times Published in Progress Magazine