Dems rally opposition for fast-track trade

A group of House Democrats is teaming up with labor, environmental and religious groups to rally against fast-track trade authority for President Obama.

The coalition of Democrats and interest groups ramped up their opposition Thursday to trade promotion authority, amid growing Republican support for the Obama administration’s ambitious trade agenda.

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Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who for months has been outspoken against granting fast-track, argued that the agreements “go well beyond trade,” and they need to be carefully scrutinized by lawmakers and the public before they reach Congress.

She said the trade deals would seep into and weaken the U.S. regulatory framework on everything from food to medicine and favor big companies over middle-class workers, and that Congress should be move involved in the process, instead of just rubber-stamping deals.

“An up or down vote is simply not acceptable,” DeLauro said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Some Democrats have been arguing for months that the current approach to trade is outdated, needs to be more transparent and leaves them out of the trade-deal shaping process.

But the U.S. Trade Representative’s office has regularly emphasized that they have held more than 1,600 meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and the details of the trade deals.

Negotiators are nearing the end of talks on TPP talks, a 12-nation agreement that spans from Chile to Japan.

Under trade promotion authority, Congress gets an up or down vote on any trade deal that reaches Capitol Hill.

Democrats argue that trade deals of the past, like the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, led to losses of wages and jobs for U.S. workers and that have never recovered.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said fast-track needs to be taken off the table and the conversation shifted to "creating good paying jobs for people here in America."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the discussion needs to turn to raising the minimum wage, addressing currency manipulation, passing a long-term highway bill and investing in education and training for students.

“The AFL-CIO doesn't just oppose fast-track, we're fighting to kill it. And we're fighting to win,” he said.

Trumka, whose organization had been in full-court-press mode for months against fast-track, said lawmakers face a simple choice to either approve it and “by doing so pull a curtain in front of another effort to drive jobs out of America and push wages down.”

“Or you will deny fast-track and give us a chance to raise wages and narrow the ever-widening income gap," he said.

The plea for opposition to fast-track comes as Republican leaders reiterated their support for the president’s trade agenda.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he is willing to work with the White House to give him fast-track authority and move forward on the trade agenda.

While he called fast-track "an enormous grant of power" he said, "that’s how much we believe in trade as an important part of America's economy."

Still, fast-track has some Democratic backing in both chambers, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Obama administration strikes deal on TPP data storage White House developing legislative strategy to pass Pacific trade deal MORE has emphasized that it is important to ensure that trade has bipartisan support. 

Besides TPP, the United States also is involved in crafting a multi-trillion trade agreement with the 28-nation European Union.

Some trade advocates argue that fast-track is needed to assure trading partners that a final deal won't be changed after years of talks. 

Two years ago, the president asked Congress to grant him fast-track authority but efforts stalled out in the last Congress in what is typically a difficult legislative lift. 

Fast-track authority was last crafted in 2002 and lapsed during the Bush administration in 2007.