At some point, the U.S. House of Representatives will attempt a do-over on President Barack Obama’s request for fast-track trade authority.
The deal stalled last week when Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi turned on Obama. Now, Democrats should show faith in their president, lame duck though he may be, and find a way to grant him the authority he seeks to negotiate a Pacific Rim trade pact. Republicans will need to bend further.
We don’t yet take a stand on the trade agreement, though we believe that freer trade could benefit farmers, the Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Details of the treaty aren’t public. The lack of transparency is one of its problems.
We are concerned that the deal could suppress wages and cost jobs, and that U.S. manufacturers would be placed at a disadvantage because they must comply with stricter environmental standards than some other nations in the 12-nation pact.
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But as we wrote last month, globalization is here. The U.S. needs to be able to shape and steer the system in ways that boost our economy.
A deal could be especially beneficial for California, which exported $174 billion in goods last year. Three of the state’s major trading partners, Mexico, Canada and Japan, are part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
We have a hard time believing that next president – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or any of the other candidates – would take a stronger stand than Obama on the side of labor and the environment. He owes his presidency in no small measure to labor.
Once burned by the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated by President Bill Clinton, union leaders are adamant in their opposition to the fast-track authority and the treaty, fearing more losses of blue-collar jobs.
Unions are so opposed to the deal that their leaders urged House Democrats to oppose legislation to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance, a labor-supported program to retrain workers who have been thrown out of work because of trade-related dislocation. Obama had won GOP support for a six-year extension of the program, which is due to end in September.
Pelosi’s trepidation is understandable. Any chance Democrats have of regaining the House depends on organized labor’s support. Complicating her situation, Pelosi will need to figure out a way to hold seats of Democrats who supported the deal, including Democratic Reps. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Jim Costa of Fresno and Scott Peters of La Jolla.
In voting against the package last week, Pelosi said Congress and the president should do more for workers. She also urged Republicans to allow a vote on highway funding legislation, which would help employ construction workers.
Pelosi has been among Obama’s closest allies. She’s also a savvy and experienced negotiator and campaigner. The trade deal certainly is testing her skills and talents. If her brinkmanship results in a fairer deal for workers, we’re supportive. It would, however, be unfortunate if a deal that could help the economy dies a partisan death.