PHILADELPHIA — House Democratic leaders have a simple message for the Obama administration in its push for new trade deals: If the pacts don't increase working-class wages, you’ve lost our support.
“Don't come to me with a trade deal that increases gross domestic product. That's very good, but I want to see a trade deal that increases the median household income,” Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelAnthrax was the COVID-19 of 2001 The lessons of Afghanistan are usually learned too late Do not underestimate Kathy Hochul MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday during the Democrats' annual retreat in Philadelphia.
“And if you can't show me that, I can't vote for it.”
A large number of liberal Democrats are balking at the administration's trade agenda, citing concerns over currency manipulation, environmental degradation, food safety and worker protections, among other issues. Israel was quick to highlight those concerns, but he emphasized that they stand secondary to the question of whether the new trade deals would boost workers' pay.
“The bottom line has to be, ‘How is this going to affect people's paychecks?’ ” he said, adding that the burden of proof lies with President Obama.
“The administration's going to have to show us the proof, and they're going to have to show us the empirical data that buttresses that proof,” Israel said. “Just saying, ‘Well, this is going to increase GDP 3 percent and paychecks 5 percent,’ ain't going to cut it. … I'm going to have to see specific data and empirical evidence that a trade deal is going to first and foremost, increase the pay of middle-class workers.”
Israel emphasized that he was speaking only for himself, but other top Democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda MORE (Calif.) have rallied behind that message in recent days.
“The impact on the paychecks of America’s workers is the standard that we will use,” Pelosi said in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. “I hope to see a path to ‘yes,’ But the burden is on them to demonstrate that this is good for American paychecks.”
The administration thinks it has such proof. Testifying before both Senate and House lawmakers on Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman suggested the pending deals would benefit American workers handsomely.
“During the most recent year on record, 2013, U.S. exports reached a record high of $2.3 trillion and supported a record-breaking 11.3 million jobs,” Froman said. “At a time when too many workers haven’t seen their paychecks grow in much too long, these jobs typically pay up to 18 percent more on average than non-export related jobs.”
Democratic support will be crucial if Obama hopes to enact his trade agenda, as a number of Republicans are also opposed to the deals. It's leverage that the minority Democrats have not overlooked.
“I don't know how many votes they have on their side,” Pelosi told The Hill last week, referring to House Republicans. “They certainly do not have 218.”