By Ian Swanson and Aaron Blake - 10/22/09 06:05 PM EDT
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
The single-payer and trade measures have attracted opposition from business groups.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
spokesman for Meek said he ended his sponsorship of the Conyers bill
because the debate on healthcare is not focused on creating a
“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
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
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“It’s a fitting reminder that the environment on trade is fairly toxic,” Reinsch said.
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.