House Ways and Means Committee hearing in progress this morning. (source: House Ways and Means Committee live feed)

[Ed. note: Todd Tucker, research director with Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, will be liveblogging the Ways and Means Committee hearing. Latest updates will appear at the bottom of this post.]

The Ways and Means Committee is having its second hearing on the NAFTA expansions to Korea, Panama and Colombia. The hearing is also looking at problematic attempts to expand the World Trade Organization’s restrictions on domestic regulations, and the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, is testifying. I’ll be live-blogging, and attempt to provide a real-time fact check. (If you want to watch the live feed, go here.)

10:25 am: Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) kicked off today’s hearing, and his earlier testimony with pro-corporate trade groups, with the claim that:

As you know, these agreements have the potential to add over $10 billion to our economy and will help to reinforce critical strategic partnerships.  Using the President’s own measure, that kind of expansion to our exports could create up to 250,000 new American jobs.

This is a distorted reading of a distorted method. President Obama’s 70,000 jobs number is an illegitimate pairing of Commerce Department jobs-exports multipliers, married to a completely different methodology from a different agency, the International Trade Commission – which does not make jobs estimates. Obama then only considers one quadrant of the International Trade Commission’s findings (bilateral exports), but fails to take into account the impact of imports, or the ITC’s projected increase in the overall global trade deficit from the Korea FTA. Camp takes the distortion a step further by flipping the ITC’s methods on its head, as we go into more detail here. In any case, this mega-distorted simulation finds – Tea Party folks, hold your hats – that the job gain from the Korea FTA comes primarily in the service sector, government jobs, to be exact.

10:28 am: Ron Kirk gave a pretty brisk statement, overviewing most every trade issue inherited from the Bush administration. Kirk is reiterating the administration’s line on the NAFTA expansions to Panama and Colombia: we want to finalize them, but we’re still working behind the scenes. Camp lashed out at Kirk, saying he wanted them moved faster. That’s Panama, the tax haven; Colombia, the union murder capital of the world. For the record.

10:31 am: Camp says, “The time for generalities has passed… we need benchmarks for moving forward.” Kirk says, “I want to do that, Mr. Chairman. But we’re using the same process we used last year, to talk with our partners.”

10:32 am: Camp asks, “Is there anything left to do on Panama?” Kirk notes only labor rights issues. Does this mean that Panama is no longer a tax haven, despite their failure to pass the OECD test on tax haven abuses that even the Cayman Islands passed?  [cont’d.]

10:34 am: Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is questioning Kirk. He mentions that his concerns with Panama were “very specific.” A few labor problems, a few tax problems – but no questioning of the NAFTA-style provisions incorporated into all these deals that make regulating Wall Street more difficult, that will make fighting tax havens more difficult. Panama, and the panoply of banks registered there, will be able to challenge efforts by future administrations to fight tax haven abuses in Panama, as we lay out here.

10:36 am: Kirk is stating that the administration’s trade policy is to get the highest standards in every area. This seems like a pretty thoroughgoing endorsement of the investment and financial services provisions in these trade deals that give Wall Street huge handouts they don’t need.

10:40 am: Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) is haranguing Kirk with Obama’s repeated comments in favor of the NAFTA expansion to Colombia. I would totally agree that Obama’s repeated comments on Colombia are misguided, for totally different reasons. Every time he does so, Obama reminds those “bitter” working class voters that he’s willing to sign a deal that goes against their economic interests. It’s clear from Herger’s comment that these comments also aren’t satisfying the corporate community. So, what are these comments getting him?

10:43 am: It’s clearly hurting Kirk that he can’t send the Panama and Colombia deals to Congress, saying he “wants to do that. But we can’t.”

10:45 am: Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) is bonding with Kirk (a former Dallas mayor) about Texas and football.

10:46 am: Johnson makes a rhyme: “we signed these deals in two-thousand seven, but now it’s two-thousand eleven.

10:47 am: Kirk says, “some people were skeptical of me coming from Texas, since we are pro-trade. We have a passion for exports in Texas.”

10:50 am: Kirk is citing an African proverb: “you should take no comfort from a hole in my side of the boat.” I actually love that quote – it captures what even conservative economists admit, that trade liberalization would increase income inequality – but benefit those at the top. That is, even the most conservative take on the issue is that, for trade deals to be beneficial, they would have to be coupled with massive tax increases on the wealthy to transfer the benefits to workers, who see their relative share of the pie go down. But that agenda – trade liberalization, if it involves transfers from the rich – “isn’t going anywhere in the House“, as Dave Camp said today with respect to even modest unemployment insurance reform.

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Oxdown Diaries