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Obama Downplays Trade Authority, Trans-Pacific Partnership

Obama Downplays Trade Authority, Trans-Pacific Partnership: Fleeting Mention Doesn’t Even Reference Recently Introduced Camp-Baucus Fast Track Bill

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

“Corporate interests were fiercely lobbying for President Obama to dedicate serious time in his annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress address to push Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in order to try to overcome broad congressional and public opposition to both, but instead he made only a passing reference that largely repeated his past statements.

With almost no House Democratic support for Fast Track, a bloc of Republican “no” votes and public opposition making congressional phones ring off the hook, high-profile treatment of the issue was considered necessary to revive any prospect that Fast Track could be passed in this Congress. That President Obama gave only such a fleeting mention to Fast Track and TPP suggests that he recognize that Congress will not provide him with Fast Track and that there is no upside to raising public attention to the increasingly unpopular TPP.

It is not surprising that President Obama shied away from using this high profile platform to spotlight Fast Track or demonstrate his personal commitment to obtaining it, as that would have put him at direct odds with the almost the entire Democratic caucus in Congress and most of the Democratic political base who elected him, while fueling the ire of conservative Republicans.”

Background: President Obama’s references to trade in tonight’s speech were similar to his 2013 SOTU trade mentions: “To boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I’m announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.” Tonight’s speech also replayed the administration’s standard statement on Fast Track, for instance in the 2013 Annual Trade Policy Agenda: “To facilitate the conclusion, approval, and implementation of market-opening negotiating efforts, we will also work with Congress on Trade Promotion Authority. Such authority will guide current and future negotiations, and will thus support a jobs-focused trade agenda moving forward.”

A letter released Monday by more than 550 Democratic base organizations and a news conference today by Tea Party leaders against Fast Track reiterates the breadth of grassroots opposition. The letter included major Democratic base organizations, such as MoveOn, SEIU, AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers, that have not been involved in past “trade” fights and who are strong Obama supporters.

Past trade pacts’ role in fueling the growth of U.S. income inequality is animating new entrants into fight against Fast Track. Over the weekend, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich called for opposition to Fast Track and the TPP.

Democratic and Republican presidents have struggled to persuade Congress to provide Fast Track authority, which Congress has authorized for only five years (2002-2007) of the past 20. In late 2013, 151 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed a letter opposing Fast Track. Two weeks ago, when U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation to establish Fast Track, 17 Senate Democrats sent letters opposing the bill, which did not have a single House Democratic sponsor. The top Democrat on the relevant House Committee Sander Levin also blasted the Fast Track legislation as being inappropriate for expansive pacts like TPP.

Two groups of Republican representatives, who are skeptical of granting any additional authority to President Obama, have also sent letters opposing Fast Track, and high-profile Tea Party Republican Senator Rand Paul came out against the procedure earlier this year.

ENDS

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