- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2015

Powerful Democratic interest groups revolted Thursday against President Obama’s massive free trade deal in Asia-Pacific and vowed to wage a bruising fight in Congress, imperiling the president’s top economic priority and deepening a party rift that will extend into the 2016 elections.

A coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, gay rights and human rights groups reacted angrily to the fine print of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), published online by the White House, saying the impact on U.S. workers, consumers and the environment is worse than they feared.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the nation’s biggest labor group “will join with our allies to defeat the TPP.”

Democracy for America, a major grass-roots progressive group, said lawmakers should oppose the pact “if they want to keep their jobs.”

“Like a vote for the Iraq War, a vote for the job-killing TPP will never be forgotten and will haunt them for years to come,” said Charles Chamberlain, president of Democracy for America.

Mr. Obama, who views the pact as part of his legacy to help the middle class and bolster U.S. influence in Asia, said failure of Congress to approve the deal would allow China to dictate the terms of trade in the region.

“I know that if you take a look at what’s actually in the TPP, you will see that this is, in fact, a new type of trade deal that puts American workers first,” Mr. Obama said.

With the publication of more than 5,000 pages of the agreement that critics assailed for having been negotiated in secret, Mr. Obama will give the public 90 days to read it before he signs the deal. The president formally notified Congress late Thursday of his intent to sign the agreement.

His signature will trigger the next phase of debate in Congress, which could vote on it in the spring — just as Democratic candidates are counting on the support of labor and other allies on the left in campaigns for the House, Senate and the White House.

The president intends to fundraise and campaign aggressively for Democrats next year, but he’ll likely find himself on the opposite side of the trade issue from most Democratic candidates, including presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. She promoted TPP as secretary of state, but as a presidential candidate she has come out against it, as has her chief rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Mr. Obama said the deal is “the highest-standard trade agreement in history.”
“It eliminates 18,000 taxes that various countries put on American goods,” the president said. “That will boost made-in-America exports abroad while supporting higher-paying jobs right here at home. And that’s going to help our economy grow.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who helped promote passage of fast-track authority last summer to help Mr. Obama negotiate the agreement, said he’s withholding judgment on the trade deal.

“Enactment of TPP is going to require the administration to fully explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater U.S. influence in the world.”

Because the battle in Congress promises to be especially contentious, there was speculation Thursday that the vote could be put off until the lame-duck session of Congress after the 2016 elections. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “it’s not necessary to wait that long,” while opponents of the deal were more forceful.

No currency manipulation item

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said the vote on TPP “should be held when voters can hold their lawmakers accountable — not during an unaccountable lame-duck session.” He criticized the deal’s “global governance authority,” saying it will “enmesh our great country, and economy, in a global commission where bureaucrats from Brunei have the same vote as the United States.”

While business leaders and GOP lawmakers generally support the deal, Mr. Obama will need to rely on Republicans next year to provide most of the votes for the pact.

But there is some opposition in corporate America too. Ford Motor Co. on Thursday objected to the failure to address currency ma­nipulation, which is not contained in the main agreement.

“The currency forum does nothing to change the status quo,” the company said in a statement. “It falls outside of TPP, and it fails to include dispute settlement mechanisms to ensure global rules prohibiting currency manipulation[s] are enforced.”

The deal among the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam will cover nearly 40 percent of the world’s economic output.

Progressive groups made it clear Thursday they will wage a bitter fight in Congress against the TPP, and will punish lawmakers who vote for it.

The Communications Workers of America said a closer reading of the trade agreement proves it’s a bad deal for U.S. workers. One provision particularly opposed by labor groups would give Vietnam, where workers earn less than $1 per hour, five years to comply with labor standards — such as allowing independent unions — before the U.S. can level sanctions against it.

“CWA and a broad coalition of environmental, consumer, faith, immigrant rights, student and many other groups will continue to organize and mobilize against this deal and to hold accountable members of Congress who have chosen to side with the ‘One Percent’ and not the people of the United States,” said CWA President Chris Shelton.

‘Surrender’ on climate change

Environmental groups blasted the agreement for failing to address climate change, one of Mr. Obama’s signature issues.

“The words ‘climate change’ don’t even appear in the text. That’s a dead giveaway that this isn’t the 21st century trade deal that we’ve been promised,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s responsible trade program. “The deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress.”

Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman “ignored” Mr. Obama on climate change during negotiations of the pact. He called the deal a “surrender” by the U.S.

“I don’t know how the president can, in all good faith now, go out and try and sell this agreement when we find ourselves behind the eight ball on one of his key platforms [of climate change],” Mr. Buffenbarger said. “I’m at a loss to say I don’t know where the president or the administration or the trade rep can hold their head up high as they introduce this agreement to the public. We’ll make sure they’ll keep their head down.”

Among the criticisms by liberal groups is that the TPP’s provisions will allow drug companies to extend their monopoly pricing over new drugs, foreign banks will have the ability to challenge U.S. financial regulations, and U.S. wages will falter.

The TPP would reduce or eliminate tariffs on thousands of goods and services, including beef, dairy and automobiles, and it would create an international tribunal to resolve disputes between member countries and multinational corporations.

Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the pact will double the number of foreign companies that can challenge U.S. regulations through the new tribunal.

“The TPP in one fell swoop would allow 9,500 new subsidiaries to attack our laws,” she said.

Ms. Wallach also said the agreement “improbably” rolls back a national security exception that could leave it up to the tribunal to determine what is in a country’s national security interests.

Evan Greer, campaign director of the digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, said the so-called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” tribunals would have particularly harmful effects on intellectual property rights and Internet freedom.

“Decisions that impact the future of the Internet should never be made in secretive international tribunals — especially not ad hoc ones,” he said.

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