While President Obama gave a terrific STOU speech this week that highlighted an ambitious agenda ahead, he's getting some backlash on a certain part of his agenda:
Nearly 50 environmentalist organizations sent a letter Wednesday to every member of Congress, urging them to oppose granting President Barack Obama "fast-track" authority to pass new free trade deals.
The letter, signed by the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and dozens of other groups, comes the morning after Obama pressed for that power in his State of the Union address.
"Today’s trade agreements … are about much more than tariffs and quotas and have significant implications for our environment, public health, and global climate," the letter reads, drawing attention to "rules that would grant foreign corporations the right to sue governments, in private tribunals, over environmental, public health, and other laws and policies that corporations allege reduce the value of their investment."
Environmental groups are particularly concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- the most significant trade pact since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The Obama administration has insisted that the deal will include strong labor and environmental protections, but leaked drafts of the pact have only deepened opposition to the deal among traditionally liberal organizations. In a private meeting with congressional Democrats last year, Ambassador Michael Froman, the top White House trade official, backtracked from prior public vows to ensure strong environmental safeguards. - Huffington Post, 1/21/15
And Senate Democrats don't sound like they're on board either:
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats ready to buck Obama will do so because it's about more than just trade policy. It's about wooing the voters that he has long counted as the most important.
"I’m going to see things through the prism I’m trying to get our entire caucus to look through, and I think just about everyone agrees: Does it help the middle class?" Schumer told The Huffington Post. "I told some business leaders, even if your trade agreement raises GDP and raises corporate profits, if it doesn’t help middle-class incomes, don’t count on us."
"We may have to oppose the president on parts of his trade agenda, but it will be middle-class focused and that will be very, very good for us," he said.
Schumer admitted that Democrats might have a difficult time opposing both Obama and the GOP on trade deals. It's not a lost cause though, he said.
"When the president is on our side, we’ve got the veto, like on the [Keystone] pipeline, so that’s pretty easy. When he’s not on our side, we have to win a majority -- because they can pass things on a narrow majority, or at least 60 votes in the Senate -- it’s harder," he said. "But on an issue like trade, you’re going to find a good number of Republicans with us. Not every Republican is for trade. So that gives us some leverage."
Critics of fast track authority continued to hammer the issue Wednesday. A group of seven House Democrats, along with Sanders, described the damage caused by past trade deals crafted in secret. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), for one, said that Kodak, the photography company based in her district, had to slash its employees from 62,000 to 4,000 because of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We need to rename it. It should be the well-worn dead-end track, and not fast track," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was coy in a recent interview with The Huffington Post on whether she supports giving fast track authority to Obama. She's supported and opposed trade deals in the past.
"Have you seen it? No, I haven't seen it either," she said earlier this month. "It's a written document. It just depends on what it says. If it talks about transparency and consultation with Congress, that might be something."
Pelosi acknowledged that some in her party are "never going to be for any of it," and said others are criticizing fast track authority "to try to get the administration to do better" in terms of working with Congress on its contents. The bottom line, she said, is that people need to know what's in it.
"It's not just, 'The president wants it, so we should all be for it' kind of thing," Pelosi said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a close ally of Pelosi and a vocal critic of trade deals, insisted Wednesday that the House has the votes to block fast track authority.
"We are going to win this issue," she said, noting that the House blocked it in 1997. "We believe that we will win this vote to deny fast track."
DeLauro couldn't say, though, why there weren't any Republicans at Wednesday's event. She also couldn't say if she expected Pelosi to have her back on the issue, though she said Pelosi has always advocated for transparency.
"She will make up her own mind," said DeLauro. - Huffington Post, 1/21/15
Now Senate Republicans are eager to pass the TPP but House Republicans might be a different story:
Still pro-trade lawmakers like Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill believe that Obama can bring “enough” Democrats to pass a “fast-track” trade bill. Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 but opposed the more recent trade agreement bills with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, said Obama “probably” has the votes now to pass a TPA bill through Congress, although it’s easier in the Senate than House, where some conservatives have also raised an uproar about giving more power to the President.
The White House has recently increased its outreach efforts, tasking every Cabinet member to divvy up and target 80 House Democrats, according to the Hill newspaper. In an email Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told TIME that the trade agenda is a “top priority” for the Administration. “We are taking an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to getting this done,” she said. “We are all out talking not only to members of Congress but to business leaders and workers around the country, telling the story of why trade and exports matter.”
The United State Trade Representative office touts that over nearly five years it has held over 1,600 congressional briefings on TPP. United States Trade Ambassador Michael Froman rebutted liberals’ concerns in a press conference on Wednesday, saying that manufacturing jobs are coming back from overseas and that export-related jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than other jobs. “It gives us the opportunity to protect workers, protect the environment and level the playing field,” said Froman of TPP.
Still, Obama has a ways to go in getting broad support for both TPA and TPP. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership and Finance Committee, says “many of us wouldn’t support” TPA unless it addressed some China-related concerns. And the top Democrat on the influential Ways and Means Committee, Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin, says the Administration, Congress and outside groups need to immediately “tear apart” other outstanding issues, including those related to the environment and currency manipulation.
“I think it’s a mistake essentially to say let’s fast-track a package when there isn’t a real understanding of the issues and their resolution,” he said. “So that should be the focus right now and that will be the strong basis for getting bipartisan support. If we don’t do that, I don’t think there’s a chance that there will be bipartisan support.” - Time Magazine, 1/21/15
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D. NV) first news conference since his injury reassured his opposition to fast tracking the TPP:
In his first public appearance with reporters since injuring himself in early January, Reid reiterated his previous skepticism of giving the president carte-blanche authority to broker international trade agreements without congressional amendment, a process known as fast-tracking.
“I don’t support fast-track,” Reid said. “Until it’s shown to me that trade agreements support the middle class, I’m not going to be jumping on the bandwagon.”
That Democrats are hesitant about such deals is not new. Yet Reid publicly restating his opposition days after Obama’s annual policy address and weeks into the Democrats’ new position as the minority party in the Senate highlights the divisions between the White House and Hill Democrats on fundamental policy issues as Obama plots out his final two years in office.
Republicans had heralded trade agreements as one of the key parts of Obama’s State of the Union address, citing them as a starting point for a working relationship with an administration they’ve largely panned. Yet, if the White House chooses to take that support and make trade one of the early priorities in 2015, it could make for an uncomfortable bookend with Hill Democrats, whose support was increasingly fractured at the end of last year.
In December 2014, 139 House and 21 Senate Democrats broke from the president by opposing a year-end spending deal because they didn’t believe a bill funding the government should include policy riders that weakened Wall Street reform and what was left of campaign finance reform. - Yahoo News, 1/22/15
Friends of the Earth is putting the pressure on Congress to oppose fast tracking this trade deal. Click here to help them continue to put pressure on your representatives: