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Democrats Could Sink Obama's Trade Plans in Fast-Track Showdown

Democrats Could Sink Obama's Trade Plans in Fast-Track Showdown
(Dennis Brack/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 11 June 2015 10:08 PM

The House is set to vote Friday on whether to give President Barack Obama fast-track trade authority — and it's Democrats, not Republicans, who could sink his chances to gain a free hand in negotiating deals with foreign nations.

"It's in their hands, they have to pass TAA," said North Carolina Republican Rep. Richard Hudson. Democrats are threatening to reject provisions that would provide retraining aid to American workers displaced by any agreements, called Trade Adjustment Assistance.

"We can only deliver a certain number of votes for TAA," Hudson said. "So we'll see."

Organized labor, led by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, is pushing Democrats to reject the retraining program to kill the overall Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation.

Unions argue that the agreements, like the one with 12 Pacific nations that Obama hopes to reach should he get the authority, would send U.S. jobs overseas.

Trumka met with top Democrats late Thursday, telling them that he would pray for those who oppose the unions' position.

"We're calling their bluff," Hudson said late Thursday. "If they want to bring it down, then it's going to be a crushing blow to their president."

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, however, is siding with the unions.

"The TAA is the handmaiden to facilitate the whole deal," he said. "We have the potential to stop this whole train and revisit the most egregious provisions" of fast track.

"It's counterintuitive for Democrats to be voting against it, but President Trumka came and said vote against it," DeFazio said.

The retraining assistance is among many issues surrounding fast track that has aligned President Obama with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP legislators but has seared deep divisions within his own party.

After weeks of lobbying, barely 20 of the 188 House Democrats support granting Obama the authority, according to news reports. As many as 40 of the 246 Republicans are expected to vote against it.

And in a closed-door meeting at the Capitol, top White House officials implored Democrats not to deny Obama the trade authority. Such a vote, they said, would block needed trade expansion for the nation and sink a major priority of the Democratic president.

Many of the pitches, however, are falling on deaf ears.

"I recognize that the president does indeed want this legislation passed," Illinois Democrat Rep. Danny Davis, told The Washington Post. "The people who vote for me in the 7th District have their position, and accurate, right, wrong, whatever — it’s the position of the people."

The trade issue's divisiveness was evident in the 217-212 House vote to send fast track to the floor for Friday's expected showdown.

Fast track gives President Obama the power to negotiate trade deals that can be approved or rejected by Congress but not amended. The Senate granted Obama the authority last month.

Boehner and other House Republicans primarily have long contended that TPA would open American products to vast foreign markets.

"This vote’s about doing what’s right for the country," Boehner said earlier Thursday. "It’s about China out there writing the rules for the global economy, and if we stay on the sidelines, our allies will gravitate back towards China, away from us, and away from our workers.

"So we’re doing our part to pass trade promotion authority, and I’m hopeful that our friends on the other side of the aisle will do theirs," the speaker added. "If we work together, it’ll be a big win for American jobs and American leadership."

Tennessee Rep. Diane Black said that as many as 800,000 Volunteer State jobs were tied to trade.

"I know that when we compete on a level playing field, and when our businesses and manufacturers are afforded access to the same markets as our competitors overseas, we can win," she said.

Black sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who also supports fast track.

"Either we shape the [trade] agreement or it shapes us," the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate told Fox News on Thursday. "Other people are writing the rules of global economy, and as an American who wants to lead and see our country lead, I'm trying to pass trade."

But many Republicans are adamant to fast track. Besides the jobs issue, they cite provisions that would allow investors from one country to sue governments before an international arbitration panel and not in U.S. courts and argue that TPA permits too much secrecy in foreign-trade agreements.

Legislators also point to recent surveys whereby huge majorities of Americans say that protecting U.S. industries and jobs through limited imports was more important than free trade.

The sentiment cut across all parties in a recent NBC News poll.

"The phone calls coming in to my district are 20-1 against," Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a stunning victory last year, told talk-radio show host Glenn Beck.

Calling himself "a free trader," Brat likened the effect to fast track to Obamacare.

"Obamacare — it was going to lower costs … it was going to provide insurance to more people and it was going to lower costs," he said. "Well, it didn’t. Everybody has got the check in the mail now.

"If we vote yes, the best way to think about this thing is that it's a locomotive," Brat added.

"If we hit 'go,' this train is going forward and there is no stopping it."

Story continues below audio.

Many conservative groups have come out against fast track.

Numbers USA, which urges stronger restrictions on immigration, said Thursday that it would score against legislators if they supported TPA with any provisions that could loosen the nation's immigration laws.

Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, told The Wall Street Journal that the group opposed the legislation.

"There are some areas where the guys on the left, unions and others, get it right — and this is one of those issues," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The House is set to vote Friday on whether to give President Barack Obama fast-track trade authority — and it's Democrats, not Republicans, who could sink his chances to gain a free hand in negotiating deals with foreign nations.
house, vote, trade, fast, track, barack obama, democrats, tpp
Thursday, 11 June 2015 10:08 PM
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