Key Democrat opposes Pacific trade deal

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

A top House Democrat says he is opposing a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade agreement.

“As negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership falls short of an acceptable outcome, and I cannot support it,” said Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday.

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Levin cited four major areas where he said the agreement failed to make the improvements he has been calling for during the past year.

The issue of workers rights, especially in Vietnam, Malaysia and Mexico; rules of origin on parts for automobiles; currency manipulation; and the investment chapter that he says endangers U.S. laws on the environment and health all top his list of problems with the TPP crafted between the United States and 11 other nations.

“Some will say that TPP is an improvement over the status quo,” Levin said. “Others will say that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

“Regardless of whether those often rhetorical measuring sticks were relevant in the past when trade agreements simply equaled tariff reductions, they vitally miss the mark today,” he added.

Levin's potential support for the deal was always tenuous at best. He has repeatedly expressed a litany of concerns about the deal as it developed and urged the Obama administration to strengthen the TPP agreement to better protect U.S. workers.

"We're disappointed but not surprised given Congressman Levin's votes against trade promotion authority and the trade enforcement bill," said Matt McAlvanah, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for public affairs, in an email to The Hill.

"In TPP, we've made historic progress on issues important to House Democrats and look forward to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis to move legislation forward," McAlvanah said.

But Levin said that his "position has never been no TPP," he said. 

The deal faces a rough road to passage on Capitol Hill with a majority of Democrats opposing the agreement and potentially supportive Republicans calling on the White House to reach a compromise over the treatment of pharmaceuticals and tobacco or face the TPP's possible failure.

But Levin conceded it is hard to predict what will happen this year in Congress with Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellHillary's ObamaCare problem In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ MORE (R-Ky.) saying a vote on the TPP probably won't happen until after the November elections.

Levin said he expects the trade debate to pick up in intensity in the coming weeks as lobbyists storm Capitol Hill in an effort to sway lawmakers to take their sides.

"A debate will ensure and I hope along constructive lines," he said. 

This post was updated at 1:45 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.