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Dem candidates battle it out over trade

Hillary and Obama are now preparing for several more important contests with the Wisconsin primary today, and Ohio and Texas close on its heels. These are among the states that have suffered most severely under our failed trade policies. The big question now? Who can bash "NAFTA" the most at each stop. Here are some of the high and low lights from the last few days.

Wall Street Journal in "Democrats' Attacks on Business Heat Up", from Saturday:

  • "People react very strongly against Nafta," said Anna Burger, head of SEIU's political program, in an interview. "We've seen job loss in this country as a result of Nafta. She's speaking out against Nafta now, but she has ties to it. That's been a high hurdle for her to overcome."
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), one undecided superdelegate, won election in 2006 with a populist message and said he is pleased that the presidential candidates are now following suit. "They were both a bit slow to get there, but they both have genuine beliefs about the middle class and working families and they're going exactly in the right direction," he said.
  • Hillary on the state of our nation's inequality: "We're going to end every single tax break that still exists in the federal tax code that gives one penny of your money to anybody who exports a job. Those days are done," she said. "It is wrong that an investment money manager in Wall Street making $50 million a year gets a lower tax rate than a teacher, a nurse, a truck driver, and autoworker making $50,000 a year."
  • Mr. Obama's language has the same ring ...denouncing Nafta for shipping jobs overseas and, he said, forcing "parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart." "That's why we need a president who will listen to Main Street, not just Wall Street, a president who will stand with workers not just when it's easy, but when it's hard," he said. ... "Decades of trade deals like Nafta and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear," he said.

From the L.A.Times:

Both also say they favor reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Still, Obama's strategy is to try to make NAFTA a central issue of the campaign and to try to draw contrasts on the issue with Clinton.

Many union voters believe that NAFTA was responsible for encouraging companies to send U.S. jobs abroad.

"Hillary Clinton believed NAFTA was a 'boon' to our economy," said one flier that the Obama campaign mailed to Ohio voters last week. A bleak-looking, abandoned factory was pictured on the mailing.

"We are going to mention NAFTA on every occasion," said one top Obama advisor, who asked that his name not be used.

Obama's claim that Clinton called NAFTA a "boon" to the economy is based on a 2006 item in the New York newspaper Newsday.

In that item, Clinton did not use the word "boon." Rather, the newspaper used that word to characterize her position in a chart accompanying a news story.

Clinton and her influential labor and political allies in Ohio called reporters Friday to denounce the Obama brochure as including "false claims" about her record on NAFTA. Her staff cites evidence that she privately argued against NAFTA inside the Clinton White House in the early 1990s and that she consistently called for improvements in the trade deal since her arrival in the Senate.

Still, some perceive Clinton as being too supportive of NAFTA. David Caldwell, an official of the United Steelworkers of America in Ohio, said that "Barack Obama is a little vague on this issue. But the Clinton position has been clear, at least in the past. And it was clearly wrong."

From today's New York Times:

“Revolutions in communication and technology have made it easier for companies to send jobs wherever labor is cheapest, and that’s something that cannot be reversed,” Mr. Obama said. “So I’m not going to stand here and say that we can stop every job from going overseas. I don’t believe that we can — or should — stop free trade.”

Mrs. Clinton has been critical in her presidential campaign of the way Nafta was carried out, and she has called for an overhaul of the program that helps workers who lose their jobs due to trade and for an end to any tax incentives for companies that move jobs abroad.

At an event Monday at a union hall in Wausau, Mrs. Clinton said that other countries had taken advantage of the Bush administration’s pro-trade policies.

“I’m tired of being played for a patsy,” Mrs. Clinton said at the hall. “We have the largest market in the world. It’s time we said to the rest of the world, ‘If you want to have anything to do with our market, you have to play by our rules.’ ”...

“We now have greater income inequality than any time since the Great Depression,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to reporters after touring the titanium plant. “For us to want to reverse that so everyone has a stake in the economy, I think is just common sense and good for everybody, including business.”

And there has been non-stop coverage from John Nichols in the Capital Times (WI):

  • Here with Ted Kennedy: "NAFTA was a prime example (of an unwise approach to trade for the U.S.) and President (Bill) Clinton was the key spokesperson for NAFTA, and it was supported by Senator Clinton," explained Kennedy. "Up until a little over a year ago, she was heralding that posture and position. So I think it's valuable and useful for people that are concerned about this issue that they have a healthy understanding of what the background is." The background, Kennedy suggests, highlights the stronger position of the man he is supporting for the Democratic nomination for president. Illinois Senator Barack Obama gets it. "Barack Obama understands that trade is a key element in the development of industrial policy," explained Kennedy, in response to questions from The Capital Times. "And (he knows that) the adverse trade policies of this administration, which has moved job overseas because of tax incentives and a failure for implementation of various trade agreements and weaker trade agreements, have put at risk our whole industrial base (causing) the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs."
  • And here with Hillary: "I have been somewhat surprised by the intensity of his attack. I was not in the Senate and neither was he when NAFTA was voted on. And he's made this a centerpiece of his campaign here and is attempting to do so in Ohio," Clinton said. "I have been a critic of NAFTA. It did not fulfill its expectations and caused a lot of consequences that we're going to have to deal with. And I have clearly stated for a number of years that we need to have the kind of pro-American smart trade that comes from looking at the trade agreements we've already passed, evaluating them and revising them so that they're more in keeping with the what the standards are that we expect. I've said we would have a timeout when I become president to look at every single trade agreement and figure out how we're going to make them fulfill the expectation of strong labor and environmental standards. I've been advocating for a trade prosecutor, which would be the person in our government to vigorously enforce trade deals ndsh because one of the problems is that the United States actually lives by most of our trade agreements and a lot of our trading partners do not."

And anonymous Dem operatives are criticizing Obama's Patriot Employer Act over at the the FT. Wonder who it could be??

Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.

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