You Are Not Forgotten in My District

By Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3)

In all the commotion that’s been going on this year, what’s largely been missing from politicians and protesters is a focus on how we are going to produce more good paying American jobs and give middle-class Americans a needed boost. 

In his inaugural address, President Trump said, “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”  Among the Americans who have been forgotten by our nation’s elites, including much of Washington, are those for whom I have always fought – America’s middle class.  The middle class built this nation through their sweat and sacrifices into the greatest nation on earth.  They have lived by the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make a good life for yourself and give your children a chance to do better.  But many no longer see the chance for their hard work to pay off in large part because Washington made bad trade deals that sent good middle-class jobs out of our country.

For the past 25 years we’ve been promised that trade agreements would produce needed jobs, but they’ve done the opposite.  President Clinton negotiated the North American Free Tree Agreement (NAFTA) and middle-class Americans suffered as manufacturing jobs fled.  President Bush gave us the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Korean Free Trade Agreement (KFTA) and we lost more jobs.  Then President Obama completed negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have been the largest trade deal in world history, and many of us understood it would be another disaster for American workers.  So we fought tooth and nail against the TPP and were able to prevent its passage in Congress until it was formally killed a few weeks ago.

Middle-class Americans rightly believe that these trade deals demonstrate that they've been forgotten.  And although many Democrats have opposed these agreements, history shows that it’s not just been Republicans responsible for negotiating and passing them.  

It's well past time to end these bad deals.  Trade is important, but it must be done fairly so that middle-class Americans benefit, not just big corporations.  That is why I have joined Rep. Peter DeFazio in introducing the 21st Century Workers’ Bill of Rights which tells the Trump Administration and succeeding presidents the rules they should follow in all future trade negotiations.  These include requiring enforceable labor and environmental standards, combating currency manipulation, requiring strong rules of origin provisions, avoiding provisions that undermine Buy American laws, eliminating investor protections that make it cheaper to send jobs overseas, and ending tribunals that undermine U.S. trade enforcement laws.  I’ve also developed my own resolution to prioritize in our trade negotiations the goal of balancing our trade deficit, where we seek to equalize our exports and imports and increase U.S. jobs.

When President Trump talked about the forgotten men and women in his inaugural, he said to these Americans, “everyone is listening to you now.”  I have always listened.  I have always stood for middle-class Americans that have been forgotten in Washington.  I will continue to do that.  It's time for others to do the same.  So far I have some concerns with a number of President Trump's cabinet choices being from Wall Street.  Wall Street voices are some of the voices that have drowned out the middle class on past trade deals and other policies.  The voices of the middle class must finally be the ones that are heard. We will see if Trump’s actions meet his promise.  At the same time, Democrats would be wise to better understand how Trump’s middle-class jobs message got him to the White House, and realize we need to focus our fight to support working class families.