Brent Budowsky: Hillary’s big test on trade

When I recently addressed the Women’s National Democratic Club in D.C. with remarks titled “Superwoman comes to the supermarket,” my theme was that the world will be changed and America’s first female presidency will be born if a woman of the wealth, stature and power of Hillary Clinton becomes the authentic champion for the hundreds of millions of Americans who want a president who will battle to better their lives in an economy that is fair.

The big question about Clinton, which she has so far failed to answer courageously and convincingly, is whether she will be that champion of change and that fearless fighter for fairness with deeds as well as words.

{mosads}A major test for the former secretary of State will be where she stands on the issue of granting fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that is now being negotiated with secrecy, allowing well-connected lobbyists to know details about negotiations that the American people and the media do not know.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and many other liberals in Congress — as well as some Tea Party supporters — object to this. I join them wholeheartedly. President Obama says we are wrong, which is his right.

But when Obama charged that Warren and others do not know what they are talking about and compared Democratic liberals to right-wingers who claimed that ObamaCare would bring death panels, his false, arrogant and condescending comments revealed an attitude that serves him poorly in the presidency and may have kept many liberal voters home in the midterm elections.

Putting aside the Peter Schweizer opposition-research book that I discussed yesterday in my “Holy war against Hillary” column, there are many liberals and Democrats — myself included — who are troubled by Clinton’s highly paid private speeches to interest groups and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Two facts: Over the last 18 months, Clinton’s favorable rating has markedly declined, and the number of voters who consider her untrustworthy has risen. Her failure to take bold policy positions in her campaign has created a news vacuum that is filled by attacks against her and stories about her money, consultants and political tactics that have no appeal to voters.

Regarding trade, Congress should not enact fast-track authority for the president that would ban amendments to approval of a trade deal — a deal that is being kept secret from voters while large interested donors and their powerful lobbyists learn details from insiders that are being denied to workers, consumers, voters and the media.

I am no protectionist; my hope is that a good trade deal can be negotiated in a global economy we must accept, debate and reform.

For four decades this globalizing economy has become a job-destroying and wage-depressing machine in which inequality has risen, wages have stagnated and fallen further and further behind the cost of living, poverty has remained at punishing levels, lobbyists have prospered, and executive pay has soared.

The game remains fixed, the deck remains stacked, and the bid remains rigged under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, while far too many trade negotiators, operating in secret, have been the epitome of the revolving door.

Clinton should employ her clout to oppose fast-track for secret deals without fear or favor toward those who pay for her speeches or donate to her campaigns. She should begin a serious conversation with voters about the global economy and demand, as a condition of supporting trade deals that could cost jobs, dramatic programs that would create jobs, such as a massive Rebuild America program that has been long discussed but never enacted.

Let’s not demonize the wealthy. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is one of my political heroes, but he is wrong when he talks of “the billionaire class” that falsely presumes all billionaires are alike. Clinton can support bringing back a version of Glass-Steagall, ending the revolving door in Washington, and standing up for American workers with high patriotism but without class warfare.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors Blog and reached at

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