The tea party and the labor unions are polar opposites on the political spectrum — and yet they are joining forces to prevent the Obama administration from having sweeping powers to negotiate trade deals.
During his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama angered union members when he urged Congress to pass trade authority legislation, which would essentially fast-track deals with overseas manufacturers, says The Hill.
The authority would mean that Congress would not be able to make amendments to trade accords or limit the amount of time the agreements could be held up in talks on Capitol Hill.
The unions, including the AFL-CIO, says that such presidential power without congressional oversight would result in American companies losing out to foreign firms, which can take advantage of a cheap labor force and weaker environmental protection laws.
The unions say these fast-track trade agreements are beneficial to U.S. multinational companies, which would be making bigger profits at the expense of workers' wages and jobs.
Tea party Republicans are not in favor of giving Obama the authority to push through trade deals, including a Pacific-region pact now in negotiation, because they do not trust the president not to abuse the power.
"This is one of those issues that 90 percent of the left and 90 percent of the right agree on," said Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation.
And Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said, "We welcome all those who would work against this version of fast track."
The labor unions and tea party activists have now become the best of enemies while teaming up to create a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to prevent Obama's trade agenda, says The Hill.
Tom Flynn, legislative director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, said, "We have had conversations with people who are likely considered tea party members of Congress with a unified goal to make sure fast track is defeated."
And Todd Cefaratti, founder of TheTeaParty.net., said, "The last thing the Congress needs to do is to cede more power that constitutionally belongs to the legislative branch to President Obama."
But there has been a battle brewing over the trade deals even within the tea party itself. Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, praised Obama's speech pressing for bipartisan legislation to speed up international trade agreements.
He said, "This is one of the few policies from this administration that would actually spur economic growth, yet it is the first thing the Democrats in the Senate propose killing."
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has reached an agreement on legislation to help Obama win approval of trade deals, a Senate aide said.
Leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, which have jurisdiction over trade accords, agreed on the fast track legislation
that would let the White House negotiate trade deals that Congress would approve through an up-or-down vote without amendments, the aide said.
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