Portman Failed to Read Pacific Trade Deal Before Voting to Fast-Track It

Senator Handed His Responsibility Over to Corporate Interests That Fund His Campaigns

COLUMBUS – Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman made front page news in Ohio today with the discovery that he failed to even read the massive new Pacific trade agreement before voting for Fast-Track – therefore giving up his chance to amend the deal without even bothering to check what’s in it.

Reports show Portman took nearly $120,000 from corporate backers of the Pacific deal ahead of his Fast-Track vote – six times the average contribution to U.S. Senate campaigns (here). Many of those same corporate interests have read the deal that Portman has not, and are influencing the negotiations.

“Senator Portman not only failed to do his job, he actually handed his duty as a U.S. Senator over to the corporate interests that fund his campaigns and routinely ship jobs overseas,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue.

Youngstown Vindicator Front Page - Aug. 3, 2015

The massive Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) is kept secret from the public, so the only way Ohioans have a voice in the process is for their elected officials to review it on their behalf.

At least some senators who did review parts of the draft voted against Fast-Track, including Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Warren said 85 percent of the agreement’s authors are corporate executives or lobbyists (here).  Former trade advisor Michael Wessel said the “vast majority” of trade advisors influencing the Pacific agreement represented big business interests (here).

Portman’s Excuse Reeks of Hypocrisy

Portman admitted he hadn’t read the draft only after being questioned about it by the Youngstown Vindicator. In response Portman reportedly told the Vindicator he objected to the secrecy of the proposal.

Aside from the obvious flaws in that logic, Portman’s excuse also reeks of hypocrisy. As United States Trade Representative under President George W. Bush, Portman would have engaged in the exact same secrecy as standard protocol.

In fact, Portman was specifically criticized for secrecy in negotiations he led with Africa:

  • “Robert Portman stepped down to run the Office of Management and Budget, civil society organizations in the US and South Africa are applauding the rejection of the USTR’s efforts to revive the U.S.-Southern Africa Customs Union Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-SACU FTA) negotiations. […] Among the top complaints of civil society and some legislators is that the negotiations are being held under an anti-democratic veil of secrecy. While it is well known from the statements of trade negotiators that the U.S. is pursuing an equivalently problematic approach throughout the world, keeping proposals secret keeps the populations and many elected official in the both the U.S. and Southern Africa in the dark about essential issues.” [Africa News, 5/9/06]

“Give me a break. Senator Portman negotiated President Bush’s outsourcing agenda himself  for Pete’s sake –  the excuse that his failure to read this draft is some sort of profile in courage is a joke,” said Donohue. “Senator Portman didn’t read the draft because he knew no matter what it said, he’d fall in line with corporate interests just like he always has.”

What’s at Stake in the Deal Portman Didn’t Read?

  • According to the Economic Policy Institute, Ohio lost 50,900 jobs to the trade deficit with Japan in 2013, third-highest in the country. Japan is among the Pacific trade deal countries. Past evidence shows trade deficits have not lowered after trade agreements (here).
  • Ohio has endured a net loss of more than 323,000 manufacturing jobs – one out of every three – since the 1994 NAFTA and the World Trade Organization agreements took effect. [Public Citizen, Accessed 4/24/15]
  • The U.S. trade deficit in the top Ohio exports to NAFTA countries rose 476 percent in the last 17 years. [Public Citizen, Accessed 4/24/15]
  • The U.S. trade deficit in the top Ohio exports to Korea rose 22 percent after passage of the U.S. Korean free trade agreement. [Public Citizen, Accessed 4/24/15]