Obama’s Trade Pact Role Reversal: Opposition From Fellow Democrats

WASHINGTON  — Debates on lowering trade barriers can turn Congress upside down for Democratic presidents promoting such legislation. Business-minded Republicans suddenly turn into allies and Democrats aligned with organized labor can become outspoken foes.

It’s a reversal of the usual order of things, where a Democratic president can generally count on plenty of support from fellow Democrats in Congress along with varying levels of resistance from Republicans.

Now it is President Barack Obama’s turn to experience such a role reversal. Already, he is encountering pockets of Democratic resistance, especially from those representing manufacturing states, to his efforts to win congressional approval for renewal of “fast track” negotiating authority.

Such expedited powers help speed the process for major trade agreements by restricting Congress to up-and-down votes on what’s already been negotiated — with no amendments allowed.

Two such free-trade deals are in the works. One is a Pacific Rim trade pact — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American nations. A final round of negotiations begins next month and may be wrapped up by year’s end.

“We are now in the endgame,” said Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler.

The other negotiation, not as far along, is a trans-Atlantic trade alliance, mainly between the United States and European Union countries. So far it hasn’t generated as much controversy as the nearly done trans-Pacific deal — largely because Europe is a generally high-cost, generally high-wage manufacturing area.

Obtaining fast-track authority from a deeply divided Congress will be a hard sell for Obama, one likely to get even harder as November’s midterm congressional elections draw nearer. Democrats now control the Senate, Republicans the House.

And while Obama will likely mention his high-profile trade initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, dwelling on them to any extent could awkwardly bring him more applause from the Republican side of the aisle than from the Democratic side.

Getting a renewal of fast-tack negotiating authority — also called trade promotion authority — “is a priority, not in theory but in fact, for the administration because it is a key part of our overall economic strategy and our foreign policy, particularly in Asia, and because it’s time for Congress to update and to assert its own role in trade negotiations,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Democratic President Bill Clinton had the tables turned on him two decades ago and found he had to mostly twist Democratic arms to muscle through Congress the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — a 1993 free-trade pact among the U.S., Canada and Mexico that Republicans heavily supported. Democratic critics still argue that agreement continues to cost U.S. jobs. Clinton used “fast track” authority in 1993 for winning its passage.

And fast-track rules helped Republican President George W. Bush win passage of trade agreements with Chile, Singapore, Australia and Peru.

Obama used the same tactics to win approval in 2011 of free-trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, overcoming Democratic opposition.

But that authority has since expired. And opposition is mounting among Democrats to restoring it.

Two House Democrats, Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and George Miller of California, sent a letter to Obama last week announcing they had already lined up 151 House Democrats in opposition to what they called “fast-track procedures that usurp Congress’ authority over trade matters.”

“The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past,” they wrote on behalf of all the Democratic signers. “We can and must do better.”

Organized labor is also digging in its heels. “The AFL-CIO opposes this legislation in the strongest of terms and will actively work to block its passage,” said the labor organization’s president, Richard Trumka. “It is past time for the United States to get off the corporate hamster wheel on trade.”

Right now “we’re seeing the same pattern” as before beginning with NAFTA and through subsequent trade-liberalization initiatives, said Alan Tonelson, an economic analyst with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents medium-size companies employing fewer than 500 workers.

Democratic senators, with six-year-terms, have been a little more supportive of fast-track trade legislation than their House counterparts, who serve two-year terms and are often more sensitive to at-the-moment public sentiment. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced the Senate version of the fast-track legislation.

But Baucus is also Obama’s pick to be his next ambassador to China and isn’t expected to be around to shepherd the bill to passage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested the Senate isn’t about to rush into debate on the measure.

Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and an Obama antagonist on budget issues, is a top Obama ally in the trade debate. But Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House committee overseeing trade and a strong supporter of Obama on most other economic issues, is a top opponent.

Obama has now taken both sides of the free-trade debate. He opposed such deals while running for president in 2008 — and even criticized Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton for having supported NAFTA during her husband’s presidency.

Category: US Politics

  • Denni A

    “Obama has now taken both sides of the free-trade debate. He opposed such deals while running for president in 2008 — and even criticized Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton for having supported NAFTA during her husband’s presidency.”

    Baucus, the one who collaborated with Insurance lobbyists to give us the ACA with no public option now wants to give us TPP.

    Obama and Baucus, two peas (corporatist puppets) in a pod. NAFTA has been a disaster for this country, since 1994 50,000 manufacturing companies have moved their operations to Mexico, Whirlpool, Maytag, Textiles and Electronics manufacturing.

    NOW they want what is left moved to Vietnam and Brunei.

    • EmpressL

      Our Immigration Reform Act will be more of a disaster than all the above.

      “And the more you dig into the idea that we need to hugely expand the number of employer-based temporary worker visas for tech companies, the more you uncover the truth: This Immigration Bill is about powerful companies pursuing lower wages.

      We worry about corporations firing or passing over qualified American workers in order to import temporary foreign workers at lower wages.

      We worry about a declining middle class as corporate profits reach record highs.

      AMERICANS aren’t looking for handouts. We aren’t looking to be hired for jobs for which we lack essential qualifications. We just want a fair chance to use the skills we have earned — often at the cost of huge student loans — to work our way into the middle-class jobs of the future – remember the AMERICAN DREAM.”

      Trumka AFL-CIO on VISAS in the “Reform Immigration Bill”

      Unauthorized citizens of other countries are taking 8.3 million US jobs and the Reform Act will open our borders even more and prohibit deportation.

    • LTE2

      “since 1994 50,000 manufacturing companies have moved their operations to Mexico”

      I had dealt with a few companies that had operations in the U.S. which they later moved to Mexico because they could not compete any longer using American labor. With in months, they raised the prices of their products.
      So they moved to Mexico, paying those workers a far lower wage and still raised prices. I guess the tolls must have been raised on the bridge between Mexico and the U.S.

  • EmpressL

    Legislation AGAINST the WORKING CLASS:

    US Trade Deficit with Mexico
    2001 – 2011 total = -$585,602,000,000.
    It also displaced an estimated 682,900 U.S. jobs. Nearly all of the losses were in manufacturing.

    US corporations off shored over 2.4 million jobs over the last decade.

    8.3M US domestic jobs held by citizens of other countries here in the US without authorization. The “Immigration Reform Act” will give more jobs away than all the above combined. And increase the cost of our Social Services due to subsidy for low wages.

    It would be cheaper to deport 8.3 million people than support 8.3 million people. WAKE UP!

  • LTE2

    One of the reasons they want illegals to be legalized, they can use this cheap labor to compete with cheap Asian labor. When these low paid former illegals bring their equally uneducated relatives in, these people will also get jobs in the same industries ensuring a steady supply of low cost labor.
    General society gets stuck with the social costs including benefits and you pension off older Americans that once got a better wage and unemployables like poorer blacks and just wait for them to die off.

  • begabug

    wage earners can’t afford another body blow like this.

  • missjulz

    wow, that’s new! Republicans and big business on Obama’s side and labor and progressive dems on the other! shocking!

  • billy baker

    This administrations policies serve Wall Street not Main street. Obama will not rest until he unravels the gains our economy has made. The same gains he takes credit for although he has done nothing to promote.

  • billy baker

    In the end we will be a nation with two classes. The haves and the have nots.

  • billy baker

    BO doesn’t care he is in his last term.