- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2015

The political jabs hurled Thursday at President Obama sounded like the sorts of attacks he usually launches at Republicans, but it was a faction of House Democrats slamming the president for pursuing trade policies they say are hurting the same people he is trying to help with his “middle-class economics” pitch.

The Democratic infighting was sparked by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s release of annual trade data for 2014. It showed overall trade up but the U.S. trade deficit — and trade deficits with America’s free trade agreement partners — growing just as quickly.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, New York Democrat, invited Mr. Obama to come to his district in the Hudson Valley and explain to struggling families there how trade deals will make their lives better.

“Come to Poughkeepsie and show me the jobs that have been created by these trade agreements. Look in the eyes of these middle-class families that are falling further and further behind and tell them how this will help them,” Mr. Maloney told reporters on a conference call.

“We look around our districts, we say, ‘The house is on fire for the middle class, and is this [trade deal] gasoline or is this water?’” he said.

The Democrats charged that trade deals since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement led to the demise of the U.S. manufacturing industry and shipped jobs overseas, generating huge profits for corporations while squeezing out the middle class.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, pointed to the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea that spiked to $25 billion last year, a 20 percent increase from before the Korea Free Trade Agreement was implemented in 2010.

“We’re seeing a disinvestment here in the United States,” Mr. Ryan said. “These are numbers here that we have to put before President Obama and say, ‘This is not working for the American people and it’s time for us to take a stand.’”

The U.S. netted trade deficits with other trade deal countries, including Mexico ($54 billion) and Canada ($34 billion). The trade deficit with China, which the U.S. grants most-favored-nation trade status, was $343 billion.

The conference call was organized to highlight the trade imbalance and make the case against granting Mr. Obama fast-track trade authority, which would allow the president to negotiate trade deals independently and then bring them to Congress for up-or-down votes without amendments or the ability of senators to filibuster.

Fast-track authority would boost Mr. Obama’s chances of completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal with Pacific Rim countries that is the centerpiece of his Asia policy.

Fast-track, or trade promotion authority, has support from Republican leaders who reliably champion free trade.

“Trade is good for America,” Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a speech Thursday at the Washington International Trade Association.

“If we don’t write the rules of the global economy, somebody else will — somebody who may not have our best interests at heart. And if we don’t like the way the global economy works, then we have to get out there and change it,” Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Obama must overcome stiff opposition from Democrats and the party’s labor union, environmentalist and teacher allies.

The annual report showed U.S. exports increased for the fifth consecutive year to $2.35 trillion, with the trade deficit hitting a record $505 billion.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said the numbers underscored how exports have fueled “America’s economic comeback.”

“President Obama has set an ambitious trade agenda that will open up more markets to ‘Made in America’ goods and services, allowing our businesses to sell their products all over the world so they can expand and hire here at home,” Ms. Pritzker said in a statement.

Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, a member of the House Democratic leadership and a key player in the anti-trade deal coalition, said the administration is fudging the numbers.

“The administration has got to stop using gimmicks to whitewash our country’s record on trade,” Ms. DeLauro said.

No matter how the administration sugarcoats the data, she said, the numbers confirm that Mr. Obama broke the promise he made in his 2009 State of the Union address that he would double U.S. exports.

“Today’s data makes it clear that the target has been missed,” Ms. DeLauro said. “Why was the target missed? In part, because the administration insists on following the same trade policies that have failed again and again over the past 25 years.”

U.S. exports increased about 48 percent since 2009, from about $1.5 trillion to 2.3 trillion, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau.

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