Congressional Democrats have strongly supported President Obama's use of executive authority — but there is one power that many don’t want him to have.
Liberals are waging a vigorous fight against Obama’s push for expanded trade power, fearing it would lead to trade deals that favor corporate interests over American workers.
"I have long supported President Obama. I believe he generally wants to improve the lives of working Americans,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) after Obama asked for help from both parties on trade in his State of the Union address.
"But on the issue of trade, I will oppose the administration because unfortunately they are following the same exact policy that has failed in the past.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called the president’s acknowledgment that trade deals “haven’t always lived up to the hype” the “understatement of the year.”
Democrats opposed to “fast-track” authority say it is just a way to ram through major trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a deal with the European Union, with little congressional oversight.
Those same Democrats have a litany of complaints about fast-track authority — they say the policy pushes Congress and the public to the sidelines, ships good-paying jobs overseas and enables bad trade agreements that erode wages.
There also is a sense from opponents on both sides of the aisle that lawmakers are ceding their constitutional authority to the White House.
And for some Republicans, there is hesitation about giving new authority to a president they don’t trust.
"Congress should preserve its constitutional authority over trade agreements, and fight to ensure that our trade policies support the American middle class and keep our jobs here,” DeLauro said.
The Obama administration argues fast-track will help wrap up work on complex, massive trade agreements like the TPP, giving the president greater leverage in the trade talks by providing assurances to trading partners that the pacts won’t be amended.
Supporters of fast track argue the other 11 countries negotiating the TPP deal aren’t going to put their best offers forward until they know that Congress won’t amend the agreement.
House and Senate Republican leaders have expressed support for giving the president the expanded trade authority, raising it as a potential area for bipartisan cooperation and a way to boost economic growth.
A trade promotion authority bill would give Congress a voice in the trade process while guaranteeing that any trade pacts receive up-or-down votes in Congress.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanBrady urges Trump to complete environmental goods deal White House gives up on passing the TPP Froman: Congress can pass the Pacific Rim trade deal MORE argues fact track actually gives Congress its best chance to play a major role in guiding the contents of the trade pacts.
“TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat to define U.S. negotiating objectives and priorities for trade agreements,” he said.
Froman said a trade promotion bill would require congressional consultation throughout the negotiating process.
“So in many ways, TPA is Congress’s best tool to ensure that Congress and the public have ample time to give our trade agreements the public scrutiny and debate they deserve,” he said.
He noted that under previous trade promotion authority bills, the president was required to provide three months notice before signing a trade pact.
Even when Congress begins its work, the process is designed to take up 90 legislative days, which is typically five calendar months or more.
That is hardly “rushing to ram something through in the dead of night,” Froman said.
Richard Nixon was the first president to have the fast-track powers in 1974, when international trade agreements began to reach beyond tariffs to other issues.
The last bill providing fast-track authority, under President George W. Bush, expired in 2007.
A new bill is under construction by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTax reform: Starting place for jobs, growth Overnight Finance: Senate Dems dig in as shutdown looms | Trump taps fast-food exec for Labor chief | Portland's new CEO tax Mnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators MORE (R-Utah), Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRon WydenSenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Senate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Budowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? MORE (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanPresident Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency Senators move to protect 'Dreamers' Cruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits MORE (R-Wis.).
Hatch expressed hope that a measure will be ready by the end of the month and that his panel will mark-up a bill by the end of February.
More details could emerge on Tuesday when the Finance and Ways and Means panels will each hold hearings with Froman.