Three House Democrats on Monday urged President Obama not to seek "fast-track" trade negotiating authority due to concerns it would be used to approve an agreement causing U.S. workers to compete with cheap labor in Asia.
"What we should not do is blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits," Democratic Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.
The op-ed was timed for the start of Obama's trip to Asia this week, where he will meet with leaders from Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.
A test for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be Obama's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But the three Democrats said fast track would also force U.S. workers to compete with workers in Asian countries like Vietnam, "where the minimum wage is $2.75 a day."
They also said fast track would limit the ability of Congress to consider controversial issues, such as the extent to which certain medicines should be protected by intellectual property rights.
"[B]ipartisan majorities in Congress have demanded rules in TPP against currency cheating, but the Obama administration has refused to include them," they wrote as another example of an issue they want covered in the TPP.
Obama proposed "fast track" trade promotion authority in his State of the Union address in January. But that proposal has not gotten off the ground in Congress, largely because of opposition from fellow Democrats who say it would hike trade deficits and outsource American jobs.
Fast track authority allows the administration to negotiate trade agreements that can only be subject to up-or-down votes by Congress, with no amendments. The process is meant to reassure U.S. trading partners that a deal reached by the executive branch can actually be approved by Congress. But the Democratic op-ed blasted the process as one that unfairly excludes them.
"Despite Congress' exclusive constitutional authority over the substance of U.S. trade policy, it would be left powerless to alter the pact, however destructive it might be for workers and families, and could only vote yay or nay on the document," the lawmakers wrote.