U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) took questions on trade policy and banking regulation during an hour-long Aug. 19 breakfast meeting with about 70 local labor union leaders, staffers and activists. The meeting was hosted by Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, at Westmoreland’s Union Manor, a union-sponsored senior living center in Portland.
Opening the meeting, Wyden said he had labor to thank for being elected to Congress in the first place. That was in 1980. Since then, Wyden has voted in accord with organized labor 90 percent of the time, according to the national AFL-CIO’s “lifetime” rating.
But trade policy has been a consistent area of disagreement. Wyden has been a supporter of NAFTA-style trade agreements for 20 years, starting with a vote for NAFTA itself in 1993 when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since then, he’s voted for every NAFTA-style trade treaty except agreements with Chile and Singapore in 2003 and Oman in 2006. Labor union leaders hold the agreements responsible for accelerating the offshoring of American manufacturing.
Now in his fourth Senate term, Wyden is in a position to affect trade policy, as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness. But he’s given no sign that he’ll oppose the next big treaty — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which the Obama administration is negotiating in secret with 11 Pacific Rim nations. Wyden HAS called for the TPP talks to be more transparent, however, a stance which garnered praise at the breakfast from Elizabeth Swager of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign.
“I will lead a fight this fall to find out what’s being talked about,” Wyden told the Portland labor leaders. TPP negotiations are slated to wrap up in October.
Wyden called TPP “our chance to have new leverage with China,” though without explaining how that would work. In 2000, Wyden voted with 82 other U.S. senators to grant permanent normal trade relations to China.
Wyden also talked up a bill he sponsored that would “take away tax breaks for sending jobs overseas.” Since 1962, it’s been a feature of U.S. tax law that U.S. taxpayers don’t pay federal income tax on the foreign profits of their foreign subsidiaries — until those profits are brought back to the United States. Wyden’s bill would eliminate that tax deferral and grant a one-time chance to bring foreign earnings back at a low tax rate. His bill would also reduce the U.S. corporate income tax rate from its current top rate of 35 percent to a flat 24 percent. Wyden’s bill, S. 727, had two co-sponsors, but didn’t go anywhere after it was introduced in 2011, and Wyden hasn’t reintroduced it in the current session of Congress, which began in January.
Northwest Oregon Labor Council executive secretary-treasurer Bob Tackett asked Wyden if he supports a bill by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept commercial banking separate from investment banking from 1933 until it was repealed in 1999. Wyden said he eats lunch with Warren, is “looking closely” at her bill, and will have more to say about it this fall.
Members of the National Association of Letter Carriers thanked Wyden for support of a bill to return the US Postal Service to fiscal health by ending a legal requirement that it pre-fund retiree health benefits.
Oregon Building Trades executive secretary-treasurer John Mohlis updated Wyden about the Jordan Cove Energy Project, a proposed liquified natural gas export facility in Coos Bay. Mohlis said the project’s front-end engineering and design work has been completed. Construction contractors for Jordan Cove signed a project labor agreement in April, pledging to employ union construction workers if construction moves forward. The proposal is to construct a 234-mile pipeline from Malin, Oregon, to the Port of Coos Bay, where a natural gas fired power plant would be constructed alongside storage tanks, a liquefaction plant, and a shipping terminal. Wyden is chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Jordan Cove — a subsidiary of Canada-headquartered pipeline and natural gas company Veresen Inc. — is seeking construction, operation and export permits approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.