By Shannon Opfer in

Despite all the griping about partisan gridlock in Congress, there is one area where both parties are united: They refuse to give away their constitutional authority over trade.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) has been exceptionally disappointing on a key issue for Maryland’s workers. Rep. Hoyer was one of just a handful of Democrats in the House of Representatives not to stand up against an undemocratic, 1970s-era procedure known as fast track, which has been used to railroad damaging U.S. trade deals through Congress.

Nationwide, 5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since the fast-tracking of the North American Free Trade Agreement, including more than 70,000 manufacturing jobs in Maryland, with large numbers of service-sector jobs now also being offshored.

How did this happen? Fast track delegated away Congress’ constitutional authority over trade, strictly limiting the opportunity for debate and amendments, and empowering the executive branch to unilaterally negotiate sweeping pacts.

During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama promised to replace both fast track and the NAFTA model with a democratic trade agreement process that fosters U.S. jobs, public health, safe food and the environment. But today the president seeks to revive fast track, allowing a NAFTA-expanding deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership to bypass Congress. This incredibly unpopular move is opposed by 62 percent of U.S. voters, and majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike reject the status-quo trade model.

President Obama recently acknowledged that doubling down on the NAFTA model via the Trans-Pacific Partnership is unpopular outside of Washington’s corporate lobbies. Moreover, government data supports public perception, unequivocally showing a massive $177 billion NAFTA trade deficit and more than 845,000 jobs lost nationwide to the pact.

Though the President has attempted to differentiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership from NAFTA, the TPP is NAFTA on steroids. It would expand NAFTA’s foreign investor privileges for companies that offshore American jobs to low-wage countries, such as Vietnam, where minimum wages are a fraction of those paid even in China.

Maryland’s workers cannot endure another fast-tracked expansion of the NAFTA model. Consider the most recent fast-tracked 2011 “free trade” agreement with South Korea, which is the groundwork for the TPP. In the first two years of the Korea agreement, the U.S. trade deficit in the top 10 products that Maryland exports to South Korea ballooned 22 percent, costing more Maryland jobs.

Nearly 600 organizations representing millions of Americans have proposed a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements that would offer the benefits of expanded trade without the baggage of NAFTA-style pacts. They want to restore accountability over trade negotiators, starting with a requirement that Congress must approve a trade agreement’s term before it is signed by the president.

Rep. Hoyer has another chance to join his many colleagues who support this new process in making clear his opposition to any attempted fast-track revival.

Shannon Opfer, Churchton

The writer is president of Communications Workers of America Local 2107, which represents workers in Maryland.

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