- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

The most liberal House Democrats are breaking with President Obama over trade deals, using a coalition that includes unions, teachers, environmentalists and possibly tea party members to try to kill trade legislation that is one of the few areas of agreement between the White House and the Republican-run Congress.

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, rallied Thursday on Capitol Hill to denounce the White House push for authority to fast-track trade deals through Congress.

They said it would hide details of the deals behind “a veil of secrecy” and prevent lawmakers from protecting their constituents from lopsided agreements.

“The AFL-CIO doesn’t just oppose fast track. We’re going to fight actively to kill it, and we’re going to win,” declared Mr. Trumka, who has expressed dissatisfaction with the president his union troops helped twice elect.

The fast-track or trade promotion authority would empower the president to unilaterally negotiate deals and then give lawmakers only an up-or-down vote on it, which would boost Mr. Obama’s chances of completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal with Pacific Rim countries that is centerpiece of his Asia policy.

Talks on the TPP are nearly finished and the White House is expected to seek fast track soon. He first asked for it two years ago but the effort stalled. This time he has the benefit of pro-free trade Republicans running both chambers.


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The rally, however, exposed a rift in the Democratic Caucus, similar to the split over the $1.1 trillion spending package last month that forced Mr. Obama to personally lobby his party’s lawmakers to get the bill passed and avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, blamed bad trade deals, pointing to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement as an example, for compromising the quality of food, increasing the cost of medicine, undermining environmental regulations, sending jobs abroad and suppressing U.S. wages.

“Under fast track all we get is an up-or-down on each trade deal. That is simply not acceptable. It is the opposite of our constitutional duty as members of Congress,” said Mrs. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and leader of the coalition.

“These deals effect everybody. We need to be able to scrutinize these deals, page by page, line by line, word by word,” she said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, struggled to stake out a position on the issue at her weekly press conference, which took place at the same time as the rally.

She said that she didn’t know any specifics about the rally, despite those participating in it gathering beforehand in Mrs. Pelosi’s nearby congressional office and the involvement of Mrs. DeLauro, one of her closest allies.

“I don’t know that most people in our caucus have made up their minds,” Mrs. Pelosi said, “But what they have made up their minds to is that they want to see transparency, they want to see consultation, they want to see fairness, they want to see what this means to the American paycheck. But we are not opposed to trade.”

She credited the White House with engaging Democratic lawmakers on how fast track and the TPP affects American workers.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office claims to have held more than 1,600 meeting with lawmakers about the TPP deal.

Still, Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat at the rally, said dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama’s push for fast track and the TPP was significantly more widespread than the roughly dozen members at the event.

“The president needs to go back to his college economics course and take a refresher,” he said.

Liberal lawmakers also said that they hoped tea party Republicans who advocate protecting national sovereignty and the separation of powers would join the opposition to fast track. Tea party leaders outside Congress are already prodding Republicans to resist giving Mr. Obama more power.

Still, Mr. Obama has some support on both sides of the aisle. The question for him is whether there is enough support in the middle to overcome opposition on the far let and far right.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, this week that he was ready to move forward with fast-track authority.

“It’s an enormous grant of power, obviously, from a Republican Congress to a Democratic president, but that’s how much we believe in trade as an important part of America’s economy,” he said.

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