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Progressive Caucus: TPP

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 14, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TONKO. I thank the gentleman from Wisconsin for yielding. I thank Representative Pocan for leading us in what I think is a very meaningful discussion this evening in this Special Order.

Mr. Speaker, trade, absolutely critical to our economy, but fair trade, not free trade, a fair trade situation where our manufacturers, our businesses, are operating on a level playing field where they have an equal shot at being able to go forward and be productive and provide for jobs, the dignity of work for Americans from coast to coast.

Recently, I talked to an individual, Representative Pocan, in my district, who had to close his doors. And it was years of assistance that we provided when I was yet in the State assembly, and then after, in the U.S. Congress, to assist them so that they could be competitive. Their major competitors were in China.

If we try to talk about public-private partnerships as being something that don't exist out there, on this House floor, then we are not getting it. It was the public-private coziness of China that really destroyed the competitive edge of a business in my community, one that had spun fibers for many defense contracts.

They alluded to the fact that, in some cases, the government, China, will own the building. The government, China, will pay the utility bill. They will offer subsidies to the industry, and then, as was just mentioned by my colleague from Wisconsin, they will manipulate the currency.

All four of those items drag down the opportunity for American workers. It dulls the competitive edge that we should be able to enjoy in the marketplace. We build smarter, and it doesn't have to be cheaper. But when these sorts of dynamics are working against us, we are really swimming upstream with very difficult challenges facing us.

Now, this factory owner had told me, if you take away one or two of the items that I just mentioned, we win easily. If you take three of the four away, we are a strong winner, and if you take all four away, winners hands down.

So it is about fairness. It is about having an equal shot at the opportunity to function in the international marketplace and be able to be creative and innovative with all sorts of intellectual capacity that comes, oftentimes, with research that should be another counterpart to this equation. When we do that, we are the strength beyond belief, and so our efforts here in the House, Representative Pocan, Representative Slaughter from upstate New York, Representative DeLauro from Connecticut, a great number of us who have been working together, Representative Doggett from Texas, a great number of us working to make certain that our colleagues know about the damage inflicted if we go forward with the current format of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It is important for us to be pro-worker, pro-business, pro-trade in a free or, rather, a fair capacity, not a free and open-ended concept that has been part and parcel to negotiated deals before this.

Now, what I hear oftentimes is that the biggest problem that had come, when talking to manufacturers in northeast U.S., is that many of the arrangements in these contracts were never implemented. So the contracts might have been a little weak or unfair to begin with, but when you add to that the lack of genuine implementation, then you really have compounded the damage. The pain is real, and it is the exodus of many, many jobs in upstate New York. That is the territory of the 20th Congressional District.

Now, Mr. Pocan, I have to tell you, I am the host community, my 20th Congressional seat in New York, the eastern end to the Erie Canal corridor. Now, that gave birth to a number of mill towns. They took a little town called New York and said they were going to make it a port, and then, by building the canal, we developed a necklace of communities dubbed mill towns that became epicenters of invention and innovation, and we sparked the westward movement. We inspired an industrial revolution. Because of that, there was a great bit of manufacturing going on.

I know that we need to upgrade and retrofit and continually grow the economy by transforming some of the workforce skill sets. I know that. We invest in that. But to put us at a competitive disadvantage by having these situations where we don't require climate change response in the contract, so we are allowing people to live in fifties and sixties standards with the environment--and we are doing our best to respond to climate change. We see the damage that has been ravaging many of our communities, either through extreme dry situations, drought in the Southwest, or flooding in the Southeast and in the Northeast, these are issues that need to be addressed, and we are doing the right thing. But when the left hand is not responding to what the right hand is doing and we are giving people a different level of standards, workforce conditions, workforce protection, these are things that need to be standard across the board and not sinking down to a lowest common denominator, but rising to the highest level amongst us.

I think of the fact that we could end up with situations, having had favored a labor scale, a payment mechanism, such as 65 cents per hour for Vietnamese workers as being that standard out there across the world. Nothing could be more harmful. That is undignified when it is seen through the lens of the worker.

So there is a lot of work to be done here. There is a lot of improvement that needs to be had.

We have opposed the TPP in its current form. Certainly we are for trade. It is important for us to have that marketplace. We are 4.7 percent of the world's population. Of course we want to advance trade. It needs to be fair trade, and that is what we are asking here. This is the message that we have been resonating so as to make certain that there is progress made here for our communities, our neighborhoods, our workers, and our businesses. We won't stop until we are successful with that. I believe the message is probably not even dealing with this during a lameduck session of Congress.

So I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts and stay with you in this Special Order for a while, Representative Pocan, because this is a very important topic to workers from coast to coast.

Again, it is the fairness that we want to bring not only to the workforce but to the business communities that invest in jobs in our neighborhood.


Mr. TONKO. I think there needs to be strong dialogue here. With the elections being early in November and probably some time to pass before we really gather again and reconvene as a base, as a body, as a House, and then with holidays consuming some of the time during December, it gives you precious little time to really have that dialogue--that conversation--that is so essential. Great things happen when we communicate, when we talk to each other and suggest these are concerns, and let's raise the given solutions that are, indeed, required to make it acceptable. That takes time.

Quite literally, there has been no work on this. People have been advancing the TPP in its original--in its now-given format, and many people see weaknesses, loopholes, and concern for workers. There are situations where labor is not protected by union forces because the governments run the unions. And if you are a dissident to the cause then there are just extreme outcomes for individuals if you become that whistleblower or that critic, that dissident, you are then maybe finding yourself incarcerated.

So it is important for us to clear up a lot of the issues, to correct them, and fine-tune them, everything from environmental standards, to worker protection, to the cost of pharmaceuticals, which has been raised many times over, and what it might do to the average pricetag out there. So there is not enough time. To rush and get that done, to beat the clock, so to speak, I think is a faulty bit of a scenario. It is not the way to do something as so critically important as this is.


Mr. TONKO. Congress has very little opportunity to adjust. It is basically a thumbs up, thumbs down. We can recommend. It is not like we can make major adjustments.

The administrator overseeing the document will have to take that back and make recommended changes. You have to bring other nations together to get agreement because it is 40 percent of the world's GDP that is the audience for this given negotiated settlement. This TPP covers a huge portion of the world's GDP. So there are a lot of partners that would have a say in the process. We can recommend, and then the changes that we can inspire are quite mild compared to what needs to be done by the framers of the settlement.


Mr. TONKO. My pleasure. Back at you because it has taken a lot of time for all of us who have been whipping in the House. I think, to the credit of our group, we have sacrificed a lot of time, but we have been working in a steadfast way that has allowed people to really question how this fits into their given district. When this is done, it has got to be done correctly because it is there. It is a long-term project.

People have seen what faulty agreements can mean in their districts. While we lost many manufacturing jobs, luckily this administration has helped to hold on to several manufacturing jobs and stop the bleeding. But now let's grow this, and let's invest in the intellect for manufacturing. Let's make it smarter, and let's also retrofit our systems so that we do have a heavy hand from a competitive edge. At the same time, let's get the negotiated agreement that is most favorable to a level playing field.


Mr. TONKO. My pleasure.


Mr. TONKO. Doesn't this give corporations an opportunity to undo regulations that are established by our country or laws that are established?


Mr. TONKO. I think what you are pointing to here is a very important component of the agreement. We do lose the control, the direct authority, required of us by the constituency that places its trust in each and every Representative that is elected to come to Congress. They believe rightfully that we are going to have their best interests.

We vote in accordance with what we hear from them about standards that should be maintained, established, and implemented; and to have that passed on to a court of whatever, of a format that is far removed from a given situation and may be looking at just greed as a factor, an unwillingness to pay abundantly well for what our standards should be maintained for just reasons, moves the process away from us with any control that we might have had taken away. I think that anonymity is a dangerous outcome as a result of this sort of agreement.

So I think that, again, there is a lot of fine print in the agreement that has to be really examined and thoroughly reviewed so that we are not putting our situations at risk and our communities at risk.

All in all, it is wanting to maintain standards that will respond to the needs of the environment. We know how critical that is. We know how much improvement is required and that we make great gains. But for those who signed into the process--some were actually directly communicating to the executive branch saying: let's get this fast track going.

Why would you circumvent your role? Why would you, as a Member of the House, want to remove yourself from the process when we should be here reviewing, examining, recommending, and at least having some sort of input that won't pass it over and absolve ourselves of given responsibilities?

So I appreciate, again, your yielding, Representative Pocan.