- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In the face of sometimes open Democratic skepticism, President Obama’s top trade adviser told lawmakers Tuesday that an ambitious trade deal with Asia could be finished in the next few months.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s testimony before the Senate Finance Committee was welcomed by supporters of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, but faced criticism from some panel Democrats and from protesters who said the agreement was being rushed through.

Talks on the TPP pact involving 12 Pacific Rim nations are set to conclude within a “small number of months,” Mr. Froman told the panel.

The hearing, focused on the Obama administration’s trade agenda for the president’s final two years in office, started out with a bang, as demonstrators disrupted the hearing waving posters and shouting “Froman is a liar” and “How low can wages go?” The hearing resumed after the protesters were whisked away by Capitol Hill police.

But the outburst underscored the political dilemma for Mr. Obama, whose hopes for major free trade deals in Asia and with the European Union are largely welcomed by Republicans but face considerable opposition from the president’s fellow Democrats and key party constituencies such as labor unions and environmentalists. Some tea party Republicans also have opposed giving Mr. Obama the “fast-track” negotiating authority needed to close the trade deals.

Mr. Froman praised the emerging TPP deal, calling it a big win for the U.S. economy and a boost for American jobs. Some Democrats on the committee cried foul, however, saying previous trade agreements didn’t do enough to curtail currency manipulation by U.S. trading partners or to enforce rules protecting labor rights and environmental standards.

“I want to export products, not jobs,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat.

Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, praised the emerging trade deal, but cautioned that Mr. Obama needed to do more to secure negotiating authority and support from his own party in the days ahead.

Critical lawmakers said the expedited deadline for the TPP would not give them enough time to study the pact or weigh the deals the administration cut to get an agreement.

“I have concerns that the agreement will not be transparent enough,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Mr. Froman’s own testimony exposed the reasons why fast-track authority and TPP should be rejected, conservative Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning said Tuesday. The broad scope of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said, “covering every aspect of the U.S. economy and life, cries out for Congress to engage in thorough and complete consideration prior to ratification.”

Supporters of the trade agreement praised the progress made to date. Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said the trade deals were needed to preserve the country’s competitive status as an exporting nation. Opening up markets to free exchange, Mr. Portman said, ushers in economic prosperity.

If, Mr. Portman said, “we are not selling to 95 percent of the world, then we are letting the American people down.”

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