Democrats to fight Obama on secret trade deal authorization
President Barack Obama may be looking for the new Republican-controlled Congress to grant him authority to fast-track negotiations over a pair of international trade deals, but critical Democrats are fighting back against the measure.
Congress knows little about the specifics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP) trade deal between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, but President Obama used his State of the Union speech to push Congress to support a fast-track vote on the deal. Obama said the deal is necessary “to sell more American products overseas.”
The ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont), joined seven House Democrats on Wednesday to state their opposition to the proposed trade agreement, saying it had been negotiated in secret and will hurt American workers. They promised to build a bipartisan coalition and work with organized labor, environmental groups and others to defeat the TPP.
“Since 2001, the US has lost more than 60,000 factories and millions of good-paying jobs,” Sanders said in a statement. “While not all of these losses can be attributed to trade policy, a lot of it can be. What corporations have done is shut down factories in this country and moved abroad where they pay workers pennies an hour. Forcing American workers to compete against Vietnamese workers who earn 56 cents an hour is a failed policy.”
During his State of the Union address, Obama agreed that past trade deals didn’t always live up to the hype, but he said “95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders. We can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.”
“Twenty-first century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas,” Obama said. “That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are also fair.”
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If the Republican-led Congress votes to give fast-track authority to the president, it means lawmakers can only vote up or down on the trade deal when it is presented, with no chance to add amendments. And only after fast-track authority is approved will congressional members get to see what is in the deal.
Some Democrats think that Obama should have the authority, but there is opposition from members of his own party who want to know the contents of the deal before granting their approval.
The seven House Democrats and Sen. Sanders are concerned about the damage caused by past trade deals crafted in secret. Sanders said previous trade deals were touted as helping the economy but instead led to the loss of middle-class jobs.
For example, the Permanent Normal Trade Relations pact with China was supposed to create hundreds of thousands of US jobs, but instead led to the loss of 3.2 million. Proponents said that the North American Free Trade Agreement would create 200,000 US jobs, but instead it cost 1 million, while the Korea Free Trade agreement, also promoted as a job creator, instead led to the loss of more than 50,000.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), told The Huffington Post that Kodak, the photography company based in her district, had to slash its work force from 62,000 people to 4,000 because of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law during the Clinton Administration.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Wednesday, in a brief House floor speech, that trade deals outsource American jobs and “wreak havoc” on minorities.
“When jobs are shipped overseas because of bad trade deals, communities of color bear a huge brunt on the loss of those jobs,” she said.
Sen. Sanders has been very outspoken about the TPP, calling it “NAFTA on Steroids.” On January 5, he wrote the United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman, demanding “a copy of the full composite bracketed text, without redactions, of the TPP.” He threated to use his constitutional congressional powers “to regulate commerce with foreign nations” if he isn’t met with cooperation.
Details of the deal were published in a leaked 95-page excerpt by Wikileaks. The draft showed that the TPP would eliminate tariffs on goods and services and change regulations for labor, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, intellectual property and environmental protections.