Liberal Dems vow to block Obama’s trade bid

Progressive House Democrats said Wednesday they can defeat President Obama’s attempt to get Congress to give him expanded powers to negotiate trade deals.

Progressives have criticized Obama in recent weeks for his trade agenda, and his bid for “fast-track” authority that’d allow him to make a trade proposal without allowing for Congress to amend the legislation.

“I believe we will defeat fast-track… the votes are not there for fast-track,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

“I don’t think the votes are there yet for fast-track,” added Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The prediction followed a meeting Wednesday with House Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

“This is part of an on-going dialogue. We started this over a year ago,” Froman said after the meeting. “We’re going to continue to explain what’s in each chapter.”

But the issue has become a contentious policy battle within the Democratic Party. Progressives backed by labor unions are clashing with more moderate Democrats, Republicans and the business community.

One senior Democratic aide to a member who is supportive of Obama’s trade agenda said the progressive members are denying the realities of the global economy.

“These guys are our version of climate deniers — they’re global economy deniers,” the aide said. “You can bury your head in the sand and pretend that the global economy doesn’t exist, but that won’t make it so.”

It’s unclear how much support Obama will need amongst his own party, but sources on both sides of the debate estimate that approval will require anywhere between 15 and 45 Democratic votes, depending on Republican support.

Democratic House leadership has arranged a series of meetings between senior administration officials and Democratic members to discuss Obama’s trade agenda. Obama is attempting to build a bipartisan coalition to advance a 12-nation international trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Both sides have had a heavy presence on Capitol Hill this week, meeting with members, with particular focus on Democrats, according to sources.

Progressives — including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are criticizing the administration’s push for a provision in the TPP that would create an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) board, an international arbitrary body that would settle disputes.

Rep. Alan Grayson (R-Fla.), DeLauro and several other progressive members argued after the meeting that ISDS would benefit corporations by allowing them to challenge U.S. regulations and statutes, including the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said that ISDS would not decide “whether Dodd-Frank is good or bad.”

“[ISDS] would decide whether an investor has been treated unfairly or discriminatory or some other basic rejection of very basic property rights,” Dempsey told The Hill.

“There’s lots of fairy tales and lots of hypotheticals,” Dempsey said. “[But] they have no power — never have and never will — to change any U.S. law or regulation. Period. Full stop. The only thing investor state panels can require is the payment of monetary compensation.”

Dempsey said that ISDS is “a neutral venue to air the grievances” that can act as a “neutral referee.”

Froman attempted to allay concerns among some Democrats that the administration was not being transparent on the negotiations, announcing increased access to the full text of the trade proposal, but progressives said after the meeting it wasn’t good enough.

“It’s too little, too late,” Grayson said.

“They’ve deliberately obstructed,” Grayson said. “They’ve been negotiating this thing for five years and now at the last minute they want to give us that in order to try and placate some of the criticism.”

Tags Alan Grayson Elizabeth Warren Michael Froman

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