Tea Party and Unions Team Up Against Obama Fast-Track Trade Authority

Image: Tea Party and Unions Team Up Against Obama Fast-Track Trade Authority

Tuesday, 04 Feb 2014 12:16 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The tea party and labor unions may represent polar opposites on the political spectrum, but they are teaming up to prevent Congress from giving the Obama administration broader authority to negotiate and make changes to trade deals.

During his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama angered union members when he urged Congress to pass trade authority legislation, which is aimed essentially at fast-tracking deals with overseas manufacturers by allowing the administration to make changes without consulting Congress.

According to The Hill, the authority would mean that Congress would not be able to amend trade accords or limit the amount of time the agreements could be held up in talks on Capitol Hill.

A similar authority was granted during the George W. Bush presidency, but unions, including the AFL-CIO, say that such presidential power without congressional oversight could result in American manufacturers losing out to foreign companies, many of which already take advantage of cheap labor forces and weaker environmental protection laws.

The unions also note that fast track trade agreements are beneficial to U.S.-based multinational companies that also increase their profits at the expense of American workers by placing most of their manufacturing operations elsewhere.

Tea party Republicans are also not in favor of giving Obama authority to push through trade deals, including a Pacific-region pact now in negotiation, because they do not trust the president.

“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.

Commenting on tea party opposition to the granting broader trade authority, Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said, “We welcome all those who would work against this version of fast track.”

While they not be the best of friends on most issues, The Hill reported Tuesday that labor unions and tea party activists are joining forces to create a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to fight the administration's trade agenda.

"We have had conversations with people that are likely considered tea party members of Congress with a unified goal to make sure fast track is defeated," Tom Flynn, the legislative director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, told The Hill.

Todd Cefaratti, founder of TheTeaParty.net., also told The Hill, “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.

"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," Russo says.

The joint effort to derail fast-track negotiating authority, however, could be a bit late. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has already reached an agreement on legislation to help the administration win quicker 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 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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