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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why USMCA Is a Big Win for Dems

At Vox, Jen Kirby reports, “On Tuesday, House Democrats announced that they’d back the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the updated version of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Trump administration renegotiated last year…Democrats are supporting the agreement now that they’ve secured changes to the deal, achieving concessions on labor and environmental rules and enforcement, prescription drugs, and other provisions that had long been sticking points between House Democrats and the administration.”

Free traders are grumbling, predictably enough, and so are a few progressives, who see any cooperation with Trump as a gift to him, a counter-narrative to impeachment. But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders see a significant upside for their party, because it shows Dems are capable of bipartisanship — when the cause is good. Also, Democrats won major pro-labor concessions few thought would be possible earlier this year.

“Make no mistake, we demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, said on Twitter,” notes Kirby.

As Pelosi explained, ““There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Tuesday. “But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.”

Kirby notes some of the major improvements in USMCA from the points of view of pro-labor progressives:

They said they’d strengthened rules for workers, including additional protections to make sure Mexico is meeting these standards. As part of USMCA, Mexico agreed to pass new workers’ rights laws, including guaranteeing the right to unionize and negotiate labor contracts. The updated USMCA will establish a committee to monitor Mexico’s progress and benchmarks for Mexico to meet. If it does not, it could lead to penalties.

Another big win for Democrats was the removal of a certain rule involving pharmaceuticals. The original USMCA extended the period that certain drugs (known as “biologics”) can be protected from generic competition to 10 years (it’s already 12 years in the US). Democrats objected to this provision, saying it could potentially thwart future efforts to lower the cost of some prescription drugs. That provision has now been removed from the USMCA.

…Already included in the USMCA were new rules that said cars must have 75 percent of their components manufactured in Mexico, the US, or Canada to qualify for zero tariffs (up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA) and provisions that 40 to 45 percent of automobile parts must be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. (Now with increased enforcement, per the Democrats.)

The USMCA also adds a 16-year “sunset” clause — meaning the terms of the agreement expire, or “sunset” after 16 years. The deal is also subject to a review every six years, at which point the US, Mexico, and Canada can decide to extend the USMCA.

Among the purely-political benefits of USMCA for Dems, noted by Kirby: “Democrats in more moderate districts were reportedly particularly nervous about leaving USMCA unresolved before the end of the year, and now they’ll have a legislative victory to take home, showing that they can still work with the administration on issues that benefit the American people — even as they’re holding the president accountable for his conduct.”

Going forward, “The House will vote on the USMCA legislation before Congress breaks for recess for the holidays, probably around the same time it votes on impeachment. The Senate must also take up the USMCA — though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the body won’t consider it until after Trump’s impeachment trial in January.”

Sure, the timing of the USMCA deal may not be optimum. But legislative timetables can’t always be controlled, especially toward year’s end. There should be no doubt, however, that USMCA is a big plus for American workers and their unions, and that fact will not be lost on working-class swing voters in the Rust Belt. Pelosi and House Democrats seized the moment, and got it done when they could. That’s what real leadership is all about.

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