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Politics of greed writ large as Congress adjourns for the summer

In the closing hours before the summer recess, the Senate passed an Energy Bill containing $14 billion in new subsidies to the oil and gas industry, at a time when they are enjoying record profits as a result of $60/barrel oil prices. With demand in the developing world rising fast, the profits to these industries are only going to continue to climb. But the oil executive-heavy Bush Administration couldn't resist the temptation to reward their friends, despite the ballooning budget deficit.

Similarly the Highway Bill passed the Senate, focused on expanding roads and bridges at the same time that Amtrak is fighting for its life. The benefits of good public transportation are so many: increased national productivity by reducing traffic delays; decreased air pollution; fewer traffic fatalities. But don't look to the $286.4 billion bill to actually solve any transportation problems. In fact, this bill represents another huge giveaway to friends of the Administration and to the Republican leadership in Congress. Mr. Bush claimed that he had succeeded in limiting the pork in the bill. But as Carl Hulse reported in the NY Times on 8/4/05, Congress managed to sneak an extra $8.5 billion into the bill and still meet the Administration's "demand" for fiscal responsibility, by requiring that the extra money be returned to the Treasury on the day the bill expires, on Sept. 30, 2009.

The giveaway to the gun industry at the end of session was truly breathtaking--mostly for all the young people who will die as a result of the potential for increased gun availability on the streets of US cities, and perhaps for US soldiers confronted with small arms that foreign conspirators will increasingly be able to buy in US markets. See Senator Kennedy's remarks in the Senate prior to the passage of this unconscionable bill.

Lastly, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) passed the House by one vote, after a spree of Republican vote buying by the House leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor July 27, 2005 about the reasons why every person of conscience should be opposed to an agreement that is likely to result in more poverty among both the workers of Central America and the manufacturing workers of America.

"Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It is a small treaty economically, but it has enormous implications for our country. I oppose CAFTA because it is a step backward for workers in Central America and a job killer here at home. As a Californian, and there are many in the chamber this evening, we all know full well the significance of our close ties to Central America. My own City of San Francisco is blessed with large populations of Central Americans, including those who sought sanctuary from El Salvador and those fleeing decades of civil war in Guatemala.

Our fate is tied with our neighbors in the hemisphere. President John F. Kennedy recognized this in 1961, when he announced the Alliance for Progress, calling for 'vast multilateral programs to relieve the continent's poverty and social inequities.' The Alliance for Progress included both economic cooperation and called for economic reforms as conditions of participation, just as we call for stronger labor and environmental standards today as the reasonable condition for trade agreements.

Mr. Speaker, I wish that the CAFTA bill we are debating tonight was an agreement that opened markets, included basic labor standards, and protected our environment. This type of trade agreement would have lifted the economies of both the United States and Central America. It would have attracted support from a large number of Democratic Members who have long histories of supporting free and fair trade, including recent free trade agreements with Australia, Singapore, Chile, Morocco, Jordan, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Unfortunately, that is not that kind of trade agreement before us tonight. Instead, we are considering a trade agreement that promotes a race to the bottom that hurts U.S. workers, turns back the clock on basic internationally-accepted worker protections, and fails to protect the environment. As a result, the Republican leadership is having a hard time convincing its own Members how to vote for this bill. You have heard a colleague earlier, Mr. Brown talk about twisting arms until their broken into a thousand pieces. The gentleman from Florida, Mr. Shaw, referenced the New York Times so I will too, which this morning said that a White House official said that the last votes are likely to be won with the most expensive deals. We should be able to pass good, fair trade treaties on their merits. Instead the Administration is trying to persuade people with sidebars, side letters, and side deals. They have never worked in the past. They are just a con, and I hope our colleagues will not fall for the con.

In their desperation to win votes, the President and the Republican leadership in the House have also proclaimed that CAFTA will promote U.S. national security and democracy in Central America. The truth is, if we want to improve our national security and promote democracy there, we should heed the words of Pope Paul VI, who said: 'If you want peace, work for justice.' Trade alone, devoid of basic living and working standards, has not and will not promote security, nor will it lift developing nations out of poverty. Our national security will not be improved by exploiting workers in Central America.

Here at home, CAFTA threatens U.S. jobs by making it harder for American businesses and farmers to compete with countries that have excessively low wages and deficient working conditions. We have lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office. CAFTA doesn't solve the jobs problem; it only digs the hole deeper. These downward pressures create a race to the bottom that needlessly threatens U.S. jobs. Nothing in this agreement will help raise substandard wages in Central America or help create a strong middle class that has the disposable income to buy U.S. goods.

Democrats understand the need to help our Central American neighbors reap the benefits of increased trade, but the costs of this CAFTA are too high with too little to justify this agreement's deficiencies. We must have basic worker protections, which ensure that our trading partners abide by the most fundamental standards of common decency and fairness. The CAFTA we are debating today fails to promote these basic measures of decency and fairness. And, in fact, it takes a step backward from current law because it removes the requirement from these countries to abide by the worker's rights standards of the international labor organization.

"When it comes to the environment, Democrats believe that environmental principles must be a central part of a core trade agreement. CAFTA will do absolutely nothing to improve environmental protection in Central America, and it will open up our own environmental laws to attack by foreign corporations. My colleagues this CAFTA allows multinational corporations to sue governments, including our own, for compensation if the environmental laws reduce the value of their investment or cuts into their profits. CAFTA places no value on the environmental health of the Americas. Moreover, the enforcement provision in this CAFTA is virtually nonexistent. It merely calls for CAFTA countries to enforce their own laws. Enforcement in these areas must be written into CAFTA if they are to be effective – they are not.

Mr. Speaker, Democrats believe that to keep America in the lead the nation must adopt a bold, new, and sustained commitment to technological innovation and educational excellence. That commitment would ensure that our country remains competitive and vibrant against formidable international competition, generating high quality jobs throughout the 21st century. We are committed to addressing the challenges of an increasingly competitive global market. Our economic future rests on our ability to innovate new products and to create new markets for those goods and services. We insist that this Administration revisit its flawed trade policy and work with Democrats so that we can pass free trade agreements including a new and improved CAFTA that expands markets, spur economic growth, protect the environment, and raise living standards in the U.S. and abroad. That would allow us to move forward with our other priorities. Mr. Speaker, American families are facing serious challenges: rising health care costs, record gas prices, climbing college costs, and massive job layoffs. They are worried about the direction of our country

Instead of addressing the serious issues that directly affect America's families and coming up with real solutions, Republicans have abused their power and focused on the wrong priorities -- pursuing an energy bill that does nothing to lower gas prices, or a Social Security privatization plan that weakens the safety net for America's elderly. Sadly, this trade agreement and the way it has been pursued by the Administration has become yet another example of those misplaced priorities and missed opportunities.

President Kennedy said in 1961 that the United States and Latin America are "firm and ancient friends, united by history and experience and by our determination to advance the values of American civilization…We must support all economic integration, which is a genuine step toward larger markets and greater competitive opportunity." It was true then, it is an inspiration now. I urge my colleagues to send this CAFTA back to the drawing board. The Administration can negotiate a new CAFTA that would open markets, include basic labor standards, and protect our environment. Such an agreement would attract strong bipartisan support. This CAFTA does none of the above. It does not protect the environment, it does not grow the economy in our country, it does not lift the living standards in Central America, and it does not have my support. Vote 'no' on this CAFTA."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

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First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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