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Maryland Senate hopeful bucks Obama on trade

Maryland Senate hopeful bucks Obama on trade
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A top House Democrat who is running for the Senate is opposing President Obama’s request for expanded trade powers.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is running to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiFormer Md. senator Paul Sarbanes dies at 87 Foreign policy congressional committees need to call more women experts Lobbying World MORE, said Tuesday he won’t support trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation in the House.

“With Republicans continuing to oppose changes to strengthen congressional consultation in TPA, and with TPP negotiations nearing completion, it is clearly too late for TPA to have any meaningful impact on the shape of TPP negotiations,” Van Hollen wrote in a letter to Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

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The opposition of Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, largely aligns him with Mikulski, who has regularly voted against fast-tracking trade deals in her nearly 30-year tenure in the Senate. She also voted against the Colombia and Panama deals in 2011, while supporting the South Korea pact.

The stance also puts him on the same side as Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who is also running for Mikulski’s seat and is opposed to TPA.

The legislation would limit Congress to only an up-or-down vote on trade deals. Without the powers, the Obama administration says it will be impossible to finish a massive Asia-Pacific trade pact.

Amid the heated trade debate, labor unions have pulled campaign funding from Democrats and political activist groups have threatened to primary lawmakers who support what they consider to be flawed trade deals.

Van Hollen said his concerns run the gamut from currency manipulation, to investor-state dispute settlement and workers rights in countries like Vietnam that would be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

He wrote that a “TPP that allows for increased investor lawsuits could undermine a government’s right to regulate in the public interest and involve the U.S. in costly and detrimental lawsuits covered by American taxpayers.”

TPA legislation has limited Democratic support in the House at this point.

Van Hollen had told The Hill recently that he was “very skeptical” about TPA and that he opposed last year’s version, which failed to gain any traction in Congress.

Many House Democrats are keeping quiet about their position until the Senate produces a bill, which could happen sometime this week.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that fast-track is “very controversial over here.”

"There are a lot of discussions going on between the administration and ourselves to try to determine what is in the TPP itself," he said.

"My sense is there is still a lot of consternation about the trade bills among the American people, and here on both sides of the aisle."