Even though they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the Tea Party and some labor unions are teaming up to prevent Congress from giving the Obama administration broader authority to negotiate and make changes to trade deals. Last week, Obama angered union members when he urged Congress to pass trade authority legislation, which is aimed essentially at fast-tracking deals with overseas manufacturers by allowing the administration to make changes without consulting Congress.
What this means is that the authority would mean that Congress would not be able to amend trade accords or limit the amount of time the agreements could be held up in talks on Capitol Hill. A similar authority was granted during the George W. Bush presidency, but unions, including the AFL-CIO, say that such presidential power without congressional oversight could result in American manufacturers losing out to foreign companies, many of which already take advantage of a cheap labor forces and weaker environmental protection laws.
The unions also say that fast track trade agreements are beneficial to U.S.-based multinational companies that also increase their profits at the expense of American workers by placing most of their manufacturing operations elsewhere.
Tea party Republicans are also not in favor of giving Obama authority to push through trade deals, including a Pacific-region pact now in negotiation, because they do not trust the president.
“This is one of those issues that 90 percent of the left and 90 percent of the right agree on,” said Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation.
Commenting on tea party opposition to the granting broader trade authority, Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said, “We welcome all those who would work against this version of fast track.”
And on Tuesday the Hill reported that labor unions and tea party activists are joining forces to create a coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to fight the administration’s trade agenda. Todd Cefaratti, founder of TheTeaParty.net., also told The Hill, “The last thing the Congress needs to do is to cede more power that constitutionally belongs to the legislative branch to President Obama.”
Also, here has been a battle brewing over the trade deals even within the tea party itself. Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, praised Obama’s speech pressing for bipartisan legislation to speed up international trade agreements.
But it could already be too late as a group of bipartisan lawmakers has already reached an agreement on legislation to help the administration win quicker approval of trade deals. Leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, which have jurisdiction over trade accords, agreed on fast-track legislation that would let the White House negotiate trade deals that Congress would approve through an up-or-down vote without amendments.