- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 19, 2004

SANTA FE, N.M. — Union officials, job-loss victims and Democratic Party leaders told the Democratic Platform Committee yesterday that President Bush’s trade policy has been a disaster for the economy, but disagreed on how to handle it in the party platform.

The unions pushed for rejecting pending free-trade agreements and a moratorium on future agreements until the $550 billion trade deficit is eliminated.

“Freeze all trade deals until we deal with this deficit,” said Bob Baugh, executive director of the Industrial Union Council.

But other Democratic leaders pleaded for moderation on trade.

“Poor nations can become more prosperous only by exporting to rich nations. When we block their exports by erecting tariffs or subsidizing our industries, we prevent them from doing better,” said former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, in his comments submitted to the committee.

What to do about outsourcing of jobs and U.S. trade policy were the thorniest issues the platform panel faced yesterday as it began its third set of hearings, focusing on domestic issues. The hearings conclude today with a discussion over what the platform should say about civil liberties.

The committee will meet next month to write the platform that will define the Democratic Party and its presumed presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, for the 2004 elections.

Panelists yesterday called for the platform to specifically demand repeal of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

“We must reverse the Bush tax cuts that are spending us blind,” said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who testified twice.

Mr. Richardson, who was chairman of the committee that drafted the 1992 Democratic platform that captured the spirit of Bill Clinton’s winning campaign, told the committee that platforms are important but difficult “because you will have a lot of pressures to reflect the broad diversity of our party.”

“My hope is that your platform is progressive, moderate, pragmatic, and that it offer positive solutions — not just criticism, but a vision of how we move forward on creating jobs for our people, on education, on health care and our standing abroad,” he said.

He said the hearings allow the party’s various constituencies to have a say, but the eventual platform should be about Mr. Kerry.

“This is a platform that should be consistent with the views of the presidential candidate, not the Democratic Party constituency,” Mr. Richardson said. “Hopefully we can marry both, but this is the nominee’s platform, and we can do no harm. So let us try to do some good.”

Platforms remain fairly constant from election to election and, unsurprisingly, there was general agreement from the various panels about spending more money on education and achieving universal health care coverage.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Philip Johnston, a member of the committee, said there’s also a “general acknowledgment” among Democrats to aggressively oppose outsourcing. Panelists agreed, too, that the Bush administration isn’t enforcing environmental and labor standards agreements already in existing trade agreements — something Mr. Reich said is fair “if such standards are pegged to what poorer nations can afford.”

But the union officials seemed to want to go further, proposing the scrapping of trade deals seen as destroying American jobs.

“This time our refrain must be: American jobs are worth fighting for. As the party’s platform drafting committee, the machinists urge you to carve that sentence into stone,” said Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Association of Machinists.

Mr. Richardson, though, told reporters later the party “should not be protectionist.”

“We should be a party of fair trade that tries more in future trade agreements that we have more worker protection, more environmental protection,” he said, adding that “we should not look at retreating from the global economy, but we should be firm against outsourcing.”

With the economy and jobs now growing strongly, Democrats believe Mr. Bush’s trade policy is still a vulnerability they can pursue.

Yesterday the administration took action on trade, proposing tariffs against wood furniture from China.

The testimony yesterday in the gym at the Santa Fe Indian School was a low-key affair, where the committee members often outnumbered the audience, and where Mr. Sloan colloquially referred to the president as “W” and his take on job losses as “bull.”

“Our America is black and bruised. When will the drama fade? Not as long as W masterminds the economy,” he said.

At times the hearing resembled a county board budget hearing, with every panelist coming to ask for higher funding for their projects and interests.

At one point a registered nurse from Iowa, part of Americans for Health Care, which is asking for health care to cover the uninsured, recounted her husband’s full list of recent medical problems and her other family members’ inability to afford health care.

Three Democratic governors — Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, in addition to Mr. Richardson — criticized the prescription drug bill and the No Child Left Behind education bill, and called for the platform to recommend changes.

Ms. Sebelius called the drug-card program “somewhat of a disaster waiting to happen. It is a small step forward, but needs desperately to be fixed.”

The committee also heard from a wide range of advocates for other causes, including members of the New Mexico Pueblo Indian communities, a 28-year-old graduate student single mother who is saving to buy a home, an AIDS outreach worker, teachers and activists to reduce hunger.

Marshall Martinez, a junior at the University of New Mexico who said he is a homosexual, felt the party should promote diversity training for school employees.

“I would like to plead with my party I’ve worked very hard to support since the beginning of college that you please enter into this platform statements about mandatory sensitivity and diversity training,” he said.

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