Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bird Dogging


Opponents of the three free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – but particularly Korea – are spending the rest of August "bird dogging" members of Congress as they return to their Congressional districts and face their electorate.

WTD listened in on a telephone organizing session last week – directed by Public Citizen – and got an ear-full.

What are the opponents "dogging"? – House members who are still sitting on the fence, unsure of how to vote on the three trade deals, most of whom are in California, Illinois, New York, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

The game of bird dogging is played by shadowing members as they move around their districts to various public forums, Rotary Clubs and "town halls." Admittedly, says Public Citizen, trade is not high on the agenda for most Americans. But the district activities give them an opportunity to bring up the subject and ask – directly and in front of local television cameras and radio microphones – what they think of the "job losing" "NAFTA-like" free trade agreements.

A successful "bird dog" can lead members that are sitting on the fence at least to give a tentative "no" or cautious negative in public – the aim of the whole exercise. Those answers, Public Citizen hopes, will put the onus on the pro-trade business groups – such as the US Chamber of Commerce – to argue their case.

Although admitting that the three free trade accords will likely pass Congress – although not by the margins that supporters project – opponents are not ruling out a victory, especially if President Obama doesn’t get around to formally submitting the FTAs to Congress this fall.

A continued dispute between the Administration, House Democrats and Congressional Republicans over renewal of expired benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program – and whether the TAA vote should take place before, after or at the same time at the FTAs – is giving trade pact opponents hope that the White House will give up on trying to get the trade deals approved at all this year.

Public Citizen organizers reminded their listeners that candidate Obama was a strong opponent of all three Bush Administration trade agreements.

As one activist put it, given the relatively few number of days left in the Congressional session when lawmakers return to Washington in September, every day of delay in submitting the FTAs makes a vote less likely.

On the other side of the fence, WTD recently heard from a seasoned business lobbyists well acquainted with the current Congress and the FTAs. He said "no problem," there is solid and strong support for three accords.

What is he doing this August? Cleaning his office. The US Chamber of Commerce – which directed a first lobbying pass-through of Congressional offices on all three accords during the first week of August – apparently is on vacation, relaxing on their confidence.

What do you think?

Jim and Mary Berger.

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