Soapbox

Bera broke promise on trade, is now paying the price

Rep. Ami Bera appears in 2014 before the Communications Workers of America, which is not endorsing him this year mostly because he backed “fast track” authority on a Pacific trade deal.
Rep. Ami Bera appears in 2014 before the Communications Workers of America, which is not endorsing him this year mostly because he backed “fast track” authority on a Pacific trade deal. Sacramento Bee file

The news that Rep. Ami Bera has failed to receive the Democratic Party’s automatic endorsement is a rebuke of his approach to trade policy and a reflection of the fact that he broke an important campaign promise.

To secure the official Democratic endorsement, Bera will have to go to the statewide party convention starting Friday. Regardless of the outcome, many of his past supporters, myself included, will not be supporting him.

In a 2014 candidate questionnaire from the United Steelworkers, Bera stated his opposition to giving “fast track” authority to the president to negotiate trade deals, which allows Congress only a yes-or-no vote on the final agreement.

In no small part because of that pledge, many of us worked hard to re-elect him in 2014 through donations, phone calls and door-knocking. And in no small part due to support from progressives, Bera narrowly won.

But last year, Bera became a leading congressional supporter of “fast track” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It passed last June by just five votes and with his support.

Despite Bera’s broken promise, his failure to receive the party endorsement last month isn’t score-settling. Instead, it’s a reflection of his constituents’ core belief that we need to elect lawmakers who have our back on essential issues.

In addition to his vote for fast track, Bera has been on the wrong side of other progressive priorities, such as voting against Syrian refugees, banning GMO labeling, weakening Dodd-Frank protections and even joining Republicans to condemn President Barack Obama for the prisoner exchange involving Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Most notably, we remain wary that Bera will support the massive Pacific trade deal. Covering 12 nations representing 40 percent of the global economy, it is based on the same failed model of past trade deals such as NAFTA. We are hearing many of the same rosy promises about economic growth and job creation.

Yet the TPP fails to crack down on unfair trade practices such as currency manipulation, which help make our products more expensive. Also, the deal would make it easier for companies to send American jobs to low-wage countries. And the TPP would cut access to affordable medicines – one reason that many HIV/AIDS organizations are opposed.

Additionally, the TPP includes several countries with abhorrent human rights records, including Vietnam and its record of child labor; Malaysia and its documented human trafficking; and Brunei and its state-sponsored anti-LGBT crusade. Instead of rewarding these nations with our most favorable trade benefits, we should have demanded real change as a precondition before their entry to the TPP.

Perhaps most troubling is a controversial dispute-settlement provision that gives companies the right to challenge in international tribunals our domestic laws and regulations. The deal’s supporters claim that such fears are overblown. Yet the Canadian company behind the rejected Keystone XL pipeline is now seeking $15 billion from the U.S. government under a similar provision in NAFTA. The TPP provision is more expansive, offering a new way to challenge U.S. policy decisions, potentially including California’s landmark steps on public health and the environment.

Bera states that he hasn’t yet decided whether to support TPP. While we hope he joins the vast majority of Democrats in opposing it, we also hope Bera understands why we no longer take his public pronouncements as the gospel truth. Elections have consequences, and so should election promises and voting records.

Robert Longer is legislative-political director for the Communications Workers of America Local 9421, which represents workers in the Sacramento region. He can be contacted at robert@cwa9421.org.

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