Labor fires back at Obama on trade

Labor unions and other groups opposed to free-trade policies are ramping up a spring offensive against the White House and congressional Republicans with new trade legislation set to emerge in the coming weeks. 

The AFL-CIO along with other groups this week trumpeted how trade promotion authority (TPA) will rubber stamp agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that they say would hurt American workers by leading to job and wage losses. 

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Hundreds of members from the various groups canvassed Capitol Hill, bringing their anti-fast-track message to more than 100 congressional offices. It’s just the latest push from the left to stop the Obama administration’s push for TPA or fast-track, which would prevent trade deals from being amended by Congress.

The labor unions have been bracing for fast-track legislation to be introduced in the Senate, but the timeline has been delayed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchLive coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill Grassley doesn't see how Judiciary 'can avoid' obstruction probe Ryan calls for tax reform to be permanent MORE (R-Utah), who is trying to win the support of Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate bill would repeal most ObamaCare taxes, delay Cadillac tax Live coverage: Senate GOP unveils its ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dem: GOP healthcare bill will result in ‘a lot of pain’ for millions MORE (D-Ore.), the panel’s ranking member.

Wyden wants to make changes to Hatch’s bill that he says would bring more Democrats on board. 

Trade is viewed by many as the best hope for a bipartisan accomplishment between the White House and the GOP-controlled Congress before Obama leaves office.

It’s an issue that divides both parties, but the fissures appear worse in Obama’s camp.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) at this week’s rally said Obama hasn’t been calling her about trade because “he knows where I stand.” 

“We can’t afford another bad trade deal,” she said at the rally. “We’re not going to rubber stamp their agreement.” 

Without fast-track, supporters say there is little chance that the 11 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the U.S. will put their best offers forward and sign a deal. The TPP is a key deal for Obama, who wants it finished before he leaves office.

Groups opposed to the TPP and a separate negotiation with the European Union are focused on stopping fast-track because they think it’s the best way of preventing those deals from being approved.

If fast-track is approved, Democrats opposed to trade say there is no stopping the two trade deals.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said the Obama administration is “putting the heat on” by applying a full-court press for trade. Cabinet members have been reaching out to members to press the trade agenda.  

Ellison said he is getting calls from people in the administration who would normally take a week to call him back. 

“So we have to push back just as hard,” he said at the rally. “We have every reason to feel confident and enthusiastic because we will win.”

Hatch has initially hoped to have legislation done by the end of the month but Wyden has dug in on several provisions, including a clause that would make it easier for Congress to rescind fast track or TPA if lawmakers are unhappy with a trade pact’s details. 

Those in support of a TPA bill argue that such a provision would doom the TPP.