While standing up for Wisconsin’s unemployed workers, Rep. Ron Kind has come under increasing criticism from those on the left who say his support of new free-trade agreements will kill jobs.
On Friday, Kind circulated a memo to his fellow House members urging them to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership and legislation that would limit the role Congress plays in approving such free-trade agreements.
The progressive group Democracy for America on Wednesday sent an email asking members to bombard Kind with calls in hopes he will reconsider. Former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's group, Progressives United, has also been active in the fight.
“As a member of his district I’m frustrated with Ron Kind because I’ve been a supporter in the past,” said Karli Wallace, an Eau Claire-based campaign organizer with DFA. “It’s a little embarrassing to me that he seems to wants to position himself as the fig leaf of bipartisanship that can help this skate through Congress somehow.”
Kind said jobs are going overseas with or without free trade agreements, and that global trade functions best with rules.
Opponents, including DFA and labor unions, say free trade agreements send American jobs oversees and drive down wages. Supporters point out that it lowers the cost of goods and opens new markets for exports.
Both are right, said Taggert Brooks, chairman of the economics department at UW-La Crosse.
“Economists will always point out that in almost all cases … freer trade results in higher average standards of living,” Brooks said. “That does not mean there aren’t winners and losers. It just means theoretically the winners could compensate the losers and make them whole and still come out ahead.”
But opponents also object to the fast-track process, noting Congress will be giving a simple up or down vote to a deal negotiated in secret.
“It’s actually a crippling of democracy,” said Bill Brockmiller, president of the Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “Whether or not you support the TPP, fast-track authority to a lot of people’s thinking is an archaic way of passing things and an offence to democracy.”
Kind said if the U.S. expects its Asian trading partners to make politically difficult concessions, they need confidence that any agreement won’t get hung up in Congress, with 535 members trying to sweeten it for their constituents.
All members of Congress have access to the terms, and labor representatives have a say, Kind said. “There’s a lot of transparency.”