COLOMBIAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT -- (Senate - April 08, 2008)
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Ms. STABENOW. First of all, I thank Senator Brown for his eloquence and his comments and his conviction. I know he would agree with me that we want trade; we just want to export our products, not our jobs. That is what we want to export.
It seems to me, Mr. President, that the administration, one more time, is getting the cart before the horse. We hear all the time about the interest in beefing up trade enforcement and passing Trade Adjustment Assistance or dealing with currency manipulation and so on. Yet those things are not happening, and the administration comes forward one more time with another trade agreement without those things in place.
Now, I first wish to thank the chairman of the Finance Committee for speaking out very strongly about this and for introducing the bipartisan Trade Adjustment Assistance bill that he has indicated must be passed before this trade agreement is even considered. I appreciate that very much and his willingness to report from the Finance Committee, on which I am honored to serve, a bill dealing with currency manipulation. We have a trade enforcement bill as well.
But the reality is that we have not received support from the administration, and we have not seen the willingness to make this the priority it needs to be in terms of our families. I know it is a priority for our leader. I know it is a priority for the chairman of the Finance Committee and the majority of us on that committee. Yet still today we are here one more time with an administration that, rather than listening to the leadership, the Speaker, rather than listening to our leadership and being willing to address the needs of workers who have lost their jobs because of trade, sends up another trade agreement. And as my friend from Ohio has indicated, it is not one that focuses on what is right in terms of workers--either the workers in Colombia or the workers in Michigan or Ohio or Montana or across the country. From my perspective, it is hard to imagine that since the beginning of this administration, almost 8 years ago, we have lost 3.6 million manufacturing jobs--million. That means 3.6 million families who had great middle-class jobs with health benefits and pensions now find themselves either unemployed or underemployed in many situations. In my home State of Michigan, we have lost 425,000 jobs. I don't know how many folks are in Montana for sure, but my guess is that would be a pretty big percentage of the folks who live in a State you love dearly and advocate for every day--425,000 people in the last 7 1/2 years.
Again, we know the economy is changing, and we are focused on advanced manufacturing. We are focused on new technology. Michigan is becoming a leader in alternative energy and will be a leader in alternative energy, but we have to continue to make things in this country. That is what manufacturing is about. I happen to believe that an economy doesn't grow unless you make things and grow things and then you add leverage to it and you add value to it. That is how you have an economy. That is how we have had an economy and a middle class that has been the envy of the world.
Frankly, when we look at creating a level playing field, we ought to be talking about bringing other countries up to us, not racing to the bottom. Americans have been told: If you only work for less, lose your health care benefits, lose your pension, we can be competitive. Senator Brown talks about Colombia setting up zones, or other countries, where companies don't have to even pay minimum wage in those countries. If they come in as an American company or a company from another part of the world, they can come in and pay workers less. That is a race to the bottom. That is not a race we can win, and I don't want to win it because if we win that race, we have lost the American dream. We have lost the middle class of this country. What we want is a race up, and that means education, innovation, changing the way we fund health care, and, yes, it means a level playing field on trade.
I believe that before we can go further with trade agreements, there are four things we have to make clear we are going to get done on behalf of American workers and American families:
Trade Adjustment Assistance. There is an excellent bipartisan bill which has been introduced in the Senate which is a bill that would extend and improve upon trade adjustment assistance. This was set up so that if somebody loses their job because of trade, they are going to be able to go back to school and they are going to have their health care benefits continued for a couple of years while they get retraining to be able to go into that new economy we all talk about.
Secondly, we have to have a stronger trade enforcement operation in this country. Mr. President, we have some 230 different trade agreements. According to former Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor, who came before the Finance Committee, we have the smallest trade enforcement office of anyplace in the industrialized world--the smallest trade enforcement office. So we need to beef that up. Again, we have legislation to do that. We just need to pass it and get it signed into law and hear the President will support it. It includes a provision that Senator Lindsey Graham and I have been working on, a bipartisan agreement we have worked on for years, to create what we call a U.S. Trade Prosecutor but basically is a chief enforcement officer--a place for business to go when their patent is stolen or there is an unfair trade practice against them so we have somebody fighting for American businesses and American workers. That needs to get done.
We need the strongest possible currency bill to address what is, in fact, against the law and creating an unfair advantage--particularly as regards China but in the case of the auto industry, Japan as well--where they are manipulating their currency and selling products to us that get anywhere from a 5-percent up to a 40-percent discount right off the top because of the valuation of their currency. That needs to change. That is called a level playing field.
Finally, Mr. President, we need to make sure we extend unemployment benefits for folks who have been unemployed due to our inaction on trade or through other parts of the economic upheaval we have been in, in so many parts of the country, and which, unfortunately, is growing across the country. I think Michigan was the canary in the coal mine, in many ways. We were hit hardest first--the epicenter of manufacturing--but this is now spreading across the country. We need to make sure the middle-class person who has lost their job has the opportunity to at least put food on the table and pay the mortgage while they are continuing to look for work.
I believe those things need to be put in place before we send any more trade agreements forward--a trade agreement that we don't have the capacity to enforce, where we are not helping the workers who have lost or will lose their jobs, and where we are not addressing the broader issues that have cost us jobs every single day.
I am stunned. We got the new numbers on Friday for what has happened. Last week's dismal jobs report was released. It was reported that our Nation lost 83,000 jobs last month--83,000 jobs last month. We know what is happening. We know we are in a recession. We have known it in Michigan for a long time. Yet President Bush's Chief Economist, Edward Lazear, said:
I don't focus too much on the monthly unemployment rate because it has been a bit volatile.
A bit volatile? Three weeks, 4 weeks ago, we were hearing: Well, the underlying fundamentals of the country are good. We have a little housing problem, but the underlying fundamentals are good.
With all due respect, I don't know what planet these folks are on, but the reality is that we have seen a convergence of issues, from the housing situation, to the broader financial markets, to trade imbalance, trade deficits, huge deficits in our budget; we have seen a lack of enforcement on trade agreements; jobs lost, 3.6 million manufacturing jobs alone; and I think this is more than just a little bit of volatility in the economy.
So, Mr. President, I am extremely hopeful that we will say no to this Colombian Free Trade Agreement and that we will stand up for Americans, that we will stand up for Americans who have lived their lives working hard, trying to play by the rules, and who expect us to stand up for them, and American businesses that have done the same thing. Let's pass Trade Adjustment Assistance the right kind of way. Let's make sure we have a strong policy on currency manipulation. Let's make sure we toughen our trade enforcement laws. And let's most certainly recognize the tens of thousands--millions at this point--of those who are on unemployment insurance and who are asking us to extend those benefits, as has been done in every other time of recession, so that they have the ability to be able to care for their families while they are looking for a job.
Mr. President, I hope we will value the dignity of work and what millions of Americans are going through every day now and understand it is our job, first and foremost, to fight for them.
I thank the Chair.