Dems turn up heat on eve of trade vote

Dems turn up heat on eve of trade vote

Fourteen Senate Democrats on Monday urged President Obama to require that stronger labor standards be implemented before a sweeping Asia-Pacific deal takes effect, firing a shot across the bow on the eve of a crucial test vote in the Senate.

The group of lawmakers, nearly all of whom oppose fast-tracking trade agreements, warned U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE and Labor Secretary Tom Perez that waiting to improve standards until after the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is enacted could diminish enforcement of labor protections in those countries.  

“TPP has been presented as a unique opportunity to measurably improve the lives of workers in all TPP countries, but only holds such promise if countries are required to meet and uphold the agreement’s labor standards before the agreement is implemented,” the senators wrote.

The Democrats signing the letter were Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownLawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves Dem senator shares photo praising LeBron James after Laura Ingraham attacks Trump gets recommendation for steep curbs on imported steel, risking trade war MORE (Ohio), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWashington puts Ethiopia's human rights abusers on notice Overnight Defense: Mattis vows Dreamers in military won't be deported | Pentagon unsure if military parade will be in Washington | Dem bill would block funds for parade Dems introduce bills to block funds for Trump's proposed parade MORE (Md.), Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (N.Y.), Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (Mich.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems hit stock buybacks in tax law fight Dem senator warns Mueller against issuing Russia report near 2018 election Dem praises gay US Olympian who feuded with Pence MORE Jr. (Pa.), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyRegulators seek to remove barriers to electric grid storage Markey, Paul want to know if new rules are helping opioid treatment Oil spill tax on oil companies reinstated as part of budget deal MORE (Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country MORE (Wis.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallCongress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Senate rejects centrist immigration bill after Trump veto threat Dem senators want list of White House officials with interim security clearances MORE (N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion MORE (Ore.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump's SEC may negate investors' ability to fight securities fraud Schatz's ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with government Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee MORE (Mass.).

The letter was sent on the eve of a vote in the Senate on Tuesday on whether to proceed to trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, which would establish the fast-track powers sought by the White House.

The procedural motion will require 60 votes to clear, leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) with little margin for error.

Cardin is the only senator to sign Monday’s letter who has expressed support for granting the fast-track authority, which would only give Congress an up-or-down vote on any trade deals, with no ability to amend them.

The Democratic signatories to Monday’s letter specifically expressed concern about workers’ rights in four countries — Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Mexico.

They argued that if countries like Vietnam are unable to meet the agreement’s labor standards before TPP takes effect, "USTR’s ability to enact change on the ground will severely diminish if not disappear after TPP’s enactment date."

They also said that the TPP needs to incorporate an independent panel with the authority to determine and settle labor compliance problems because previous agreements have proven that government-to-government enforcement of the standards is rare and does not yield timely resolutions of violations.

“American workers are the most productive in the world, but they cannot compete against workers who are paid pennies, denied their right to collectively bargain or are forced to work in unsafe conditions,” the senators wrote.

“The U.S. has maximum leverage to accomplish these objectives during the negotiations and before the agreement takes effect,” they wrote.  

The Democrats called on Froman and Perez to ensure protections around organizing labor unions and collective bargaining. They specifically encouraged Froman, who spent last week in Malaysia, to address child and forced labor in that country.

“If we don’t improve labor standards in TPP countries in a meaningful way, we fail to give American workers the ability to compete,” Brown said in a statement.

“Before we sign a trade deal affecting 40 percent of the world’s GDP, we must put stronger worker protections in place before this trade agreement goes into effect or else we will miss our opportunity to improve labor standards and level the playing field,” he said.
The lawmakers said that Malaysia’s labor laws containing long-standing prohibitions on strikes, unions and leadership roles for migrant workers must be changed.

They said that Brunei must pass a minimum wage law to ensure that its labor laws guarantee freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain.

And they said that Mexico must make more progress on its 2012 labor reforms plan.