Senate hopeful withdraws support of healthcare, trade bills

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) on Wednesday abruptly withdrew his support from a controversial trade bill and legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system.

The decision to remove himself as co-sponsor of the two bills suggests that Meek is moving to the political center. Meek is the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination for former Sen. Mel Martinez’s (R-Fla.) old seat after Rep. Corrine Brown announced she would not challenge Meek for the Democratic nomination.

The single-payer and trade measures have attracted opposition from business groups.

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As is required by House rules when backing away from legislation that a lawmaker has previously supported, Meek announced on the floor on Wednesday that he was removing his name from a bill requiring the review and renegotiation of U.S. trade agreements, which has won the support of nearly half the House Democratic Caucus.

The Hill reported on Wednesday that the bill had gained 124 co-sponsors and would put pressure on President Barack Obama’s administration as it prepares for an important World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in November.

Meek also dropped his sponsorship from Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s (D-Mich.) bill to create a single-payer health insurance system. That legislation has 87 co-sponsors.

Meek co-sponsored the healthcare bill in March, and put his name on the trade measure, introduced by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), on Oct. 15.

Brown, who endorsed Meek on Thursday, is a co-sponsor on Conyers’s bill, but is not a co-sponsor of Michaud’s legislation.

She also signed on as a co-sponsor to the Conyers bill in the 109th and 110th Congresses. Meek was not a co-sponsor of the Conyers bill before this Congress.

Brown announced Friday that she would not challenge Meek in the primary, and it remains to be seen whether a formidable primary opponent will emerge. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre recently entered the race, but has yet to prove his viability.

Polling released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University showed Meek trailing Gov. Charlie Crist (R) 51-31 in a potential general election match-up, but leading former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) 36-33.

A spokesman for Meek said he ended his sponsorship of the Conyers bill because the debate on healthcare is not focused on creating a single-payer system.

“The determination was made that the debate on healthcare is so focused right now on the public option, on the pay-fors and so many other related issues regarding the House and Senate versions of the bill, that now isn’t the time to focus on single-payer healthcare, which can take our eye off the prize before us — passing comprehensive healthcare legislation,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

The House will be voting on single-payer legislation when it votes on healthcare reform in the next couple of weeks. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) offered a single-payer amendment in the Energy and Commerce Committee this summer, but withdrew it after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised to give the bill a floor vote.

Upon closer review of Michaud’s bill, Meek realized the bill “sought to undo many of the agreements which have already been passed in Congress and implemented, which is not his position and is counter to his record,” the spokesman wrote.

He noted that Meek has voted for four recent trade agreements, and that he served on the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee in the previous

Congress. “His record in support of trade agreements and issues advocated by organized labor is near perfect,” the spokesman stated.
Unions, however, generally opposed all of the trade agreements pursued by the Bush administration, including a trade deal with Peru that Meek supported in 2007. That vote split House Democrats, with 116 voting no and 109 voting yes.

The Florida AFL-CIO endorsed Meek for the Senate at an Oct. 7 meeting, which Meek touted in a press release on Wednesday, the same day he changed his sponsorship.

Thea Lee, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said her organization supports Michaud’s legislation and that Meek’s decision to drop his sponsorship would be a subject of discussions.

Michaud’s bill is seen as anti-trade by business groups, which point out that none of its 86 objectives deal with opening foreign markets or eliminating barriers to trade.

“Essentially it’s an anti-trade bill. What it does is it means you can’t negotiate any new trade agreements unless you revise the old ones,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

The bill would require that new terms for future trade deals be set up by a review of existing policy. Reinsch said many of the bill’s requirements could have unintended consequences.

While Reinsch does not expect the bill to become law, he said business groups are concerned because of the level of support the legislation has acquired.

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After Meek’s defection, it has 123 co-sponsors, including several committee chairmen.

“It’s a fitting reminder that the environment on trade is fairly toxic,” Reinsch said.

Meek’s sponsorship was unique because he was one of only two sponsors from the Ways and Means Committee, which has oversight over trade. The other, Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), remains a co-sponsor.

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