By Stan Santos
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has reached another milestone in its rush toward implementation of a massive restructuring of the world’s economy. It has forced a series of unusual political maneuvers on the Congress and people of the United States revealing how much is at stake, both in short-term profits and for control of the world’s resources.
But the grand strategy remains vulnerable, threatened by competing interests among the dozen partner countries and internal fractures brought on by the resistance of their populations. The people of the world who have the most to lose are determined to have a voice.
The negotiations are being held in secret. The “vault” that preserves the working manuscripts is subject to tight access controls requiring security clearances. The peoples’ congressional representatives cannot copy, photograph, write paper notes or even take their staff.
There are more than 600 “advisers” from foreign and domestic corporations and trade associations, including Walmart, Chevron, the California Almond Board and, curiously, the U.S.-China Business Council. There is a scattering of “public interest” groups, although they are quick to admit that they have neither access nor influence over the negotiations. It is the powerful multinational corporations running the show.
An in-depth analysis of the TPP would require volumes of data and details fraught with dozens of acronyms. It is more useful to look at the case of Fresno and the surrounding area, which reflects the Central Valley and the dynamic that has unfolded here.
Fresno, Costa and the TPP
Fresno and surrounding communities are represented in this process by Congressional Reps. Jim Costa (D–Fresno), David Valadao (R–Hanford), Devin Nunes (R– Tulare), Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) and Jeff Denham (R–Atwater). Costa is a “Blue Dog” Democrat; a conservative on many issues, he will run with the Republicans when necessary or convenient. Jerry McNerney (D–Stockton) is another example of a Blue Dog.
In every vote, Valley Republicans maintained discipline and voted with their party, as they always do. North Valley Democrat McNerney voted with his party, as Democrats are expected to do. Costa voted with the Republicans.
History shows that Costa holds out until the last minute, as he did with healthcare reform, leveraging his vote to extract maximum benefit and political cover. In this case, he threw caution to the wind and sided with Republicans and four other Democrats in California who voted for “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA is known as fast track because it speeds the train down the track in a way that guarantees to get it through before the public knows what happened.
The rush to pass fast track was almost derailed when a key element, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), was rejected. In an even more extreme example of Blue Dog antics, Costa joined just two other Democrats in the House who voted to stall the showdown over TAA until July 30 to give conservatives more time to line up votes. TAA is critical because Obama can’t sign the bill without it and conservatives don’t like it. They consider it like welfare, and it creates a “body count.” The fact that almost 700,000 workers received TAA in recent years documents the effects of free trade in human terms.
One of those two is fellow Blue Dog Brad Ashford (D–Neb.), a first-term Representative considered likely to lose his next election. In the 2012 election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won Ashford’s district by several points in a state that encoded “right to work” into its laws. Workers do not have to join or pay dues to a union, even though the union must fight for contracts and extend those protections to all employees.
The second Democrat to vote for the July 30 extension was Blue Dog Jim Cooper (D–Neb.), another right-to-work state. Cooper supports the National Rifle Association (NRA) and laws to loosen federal gun controls. The NRA gave his campaign close to the legal limit of $10,000. Cooper was one of only three Democrats who voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, drawing criticism from some conservative constituents.
Cooper voted along with 79 pro-war Democrats against the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. He voted along with a small group of Democrats for the XL Pipeline and wildlife refuge drilling and against aid for Hurricane Sandy victims and restricting the National Security Agency.
Costa and the 16th Congressional District
In 2010, the 16th Congressional District had an advantage of 47% Democrats versus 32% Republicans. In 2014, Democrats had a 16-percentage-point advantage or almost 40,000 registrations over Republicans. Despite favorable numbers, little-known challengers and a huge fund-raising advantage, Costa barely won his last two midterm elections. In 2014, he raised more than $1.5 million against an opponent who barely scraped together $342,000 and won by only 1,300 votes.
California is a large, rich, diverse and mostly liberal state, arguably the best place in the nation for Democrats. CD 16, except for the farm areas, has progressives, party activists and a union base. They volunteer, run ground campaigns, canvass, phone bank and raise funds.
Another benefit is his name. To the Latino community, “Costa” is as close as they will come to having one of their own in one of the highest offices in the land and he is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Yet, they suffer voter apathy, uninspired by his image as a politician who always seems to side with agriculture and business interests. A 2013 press statement said that “Costa has been working to ensure that immigration reform meets the needs of both farm workers and farmers.”
Costa is considered a moderate on comprehensive immigration reform. He supported Obama’s executive action for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and joined 180 Representatives in a legal brief supporting Obama’s stalled Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA/Expanded DACA).
What motivates Costa?
In 2014, Costa’s campaign had total receipts of $1,524,075. His largest industry donors were crop production and basic processing, which gave him $225,550, followed by oil and gas companies with $110,000, almost three times their average donation to Republicans. The rest of his large industry donations were from dairy, real estate, agricultural services/products and lawyers/law firms, in that order. Public, private and building trades unions accounted for only $77,500, or less than 5% of his industry-sourced campaign funds. Political action committees are tracked separately but reflect similar data trends.
Only 19% of Costa’s donations came from within the 16th Congressional District; 81% came from out of the district and 12% came from out of state.
According to Costa’s statement on the TPP, California’s agricultural exports reached $20 billion in 2013, with his district producing almost one quarter of that, creating the perception that he is fighting for jobs and tax revenues. While the latter might be true, the jobs argument is not. The revenue-rich dairy, meat and nut operations are not labor-intensive. Former fruit and vegetable acreage is being displaced by almonds with 80%–90% destined for Asian and European markets.
Although the fate of the TPP is undecided at this time, it is clear that fast track TPA always achieves its goal. It has done so for every President who employed it since 1934, morphing beyond simple tariffs into changes in domestic law and guaranteed protections of our citizenry, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, “Congress shall have the power…To regulate Commerce with foreign nations.”
Like many fundamental freedoms and protections that we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution, only an engaged and vigilant citizenry can preserve them. Otherwise, we give up those ideals which so many fought and died for; and future generations will suffer the consequences, not only in the loss of jobs, but in the loss of their freedoms.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.