- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

House Democrats mobilized Wednesday in opposition to President Obama’s call for legislation that would make it easier for him to negotiate free-trade agreements, one of the few areas of potential compromise between the White House and Republican lawmakers.

Liberal critics of Mr. Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be the largest free-trade pact in history, vowed to defeat the president’s request for “fast-track” authority. The legislation would limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on trade deals.

“We will fight this tooth and nail, and I believe we are going to win,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, said trade-promotion authority “is designed to embed into these so-called free trade agreements a bunch of things that are detrimental to the American public.”

Organized labor is fighting Mr. Obama’s request, setting up a battle on the president’s left while the White House is launching a lobbying effort to bring more Democratic lawmakers on board with the proposal. Mr. Obama has directed Cabinet members to contact Democratic lawmakers who might be persuaded to support the legislation.

Labor unions believe the 12-nation TPP will lead to the loss of high-paying blue collar jobs in the U.S., pointing to the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s and other trade deals as proof. The Obama administration is also crafting a trade agreement with the 28-nation European Union.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Mr. Obama finally issued a high-profile call for Congress to grant him fast-track authority, a step that most Republican lawmakers had been waiting to hear.

“I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” Mr. Obama said. “But 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.

The president said China is pursuing its own trade agreement that would result in lower standards for workers, environmental rules and other international regulations.

“China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region,” Mr. Obama said. “That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.”

But Mrs. Slaughter, referring to Mr. Obama’s comment that trade deals don’t always live up to the hype, called it “the understatement of the century.”

Most congressional Republicans favor giving Mr. Obama fast-track authority, although a faction of conservatives is opposed to granting the president additional power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the president’s call for trade-promotion authority was one of the few “good signs” in an otherwise partisan State of the Union address.

Mr. McConnell said the president “began what I hope will be a sustained effort to move his own party forward — to encourage them to work with us to help create more jobs by breaking down foreign trade barriers and allowing America to sell more of what it makes and grows.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he plans to work quickly on fast-track legislation.

But in the House, about 150 Democratic lawmakers were already on record last year as opposing the trade legislation.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest conceded Wednesday that lawmakers’ reaction to the president’s call for fast-track trade authority indicated “bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.”

“There’s going to be some work to be done on both sides to persuade Democrats and Republicans that this is a good idea,” Mr. Earnest told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. “The president believes deeply that this is a good idea.”

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