Democrats Cave, Give Obama Trade Authority

Just two days after blocking progress on a Pacific trade treaty, Democrats support their president after all.

Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Harry Reid of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama talk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 11, 2012
Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Harry Reid of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama talk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 11, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

The United States Senate has voted to consider giving President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate a trade agreement with eleven other Pacific nations.

The vote came just two days after Obama’s own Democrats blocked the measure.

Many in the party fear that liberalizing 40 percent of world trade will depress wages in the United States and see more manufacturing jobs move to Asia.

Political cover

Thirteen out of 44 Democrats nevertheless voted for the president on Thursday after winning a separate vote on a bill that punishes countries which manipulate their currencies in order to keep exports cheap.

The bill, aimed at China, is unlikely to become law, Politico reports — “Obama would probably veto it if it ever got to his desk” — but it gives Democrats cover.

Trade unions, which tend to back Democrats, oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership which supporters say would boost global economic output by $220 billion over the next ten years.

Republican support

The Republican majority in Congress favors the agreement, which would also put pressure on China — now excluded from the talks — to meet its standards and stop trying to game global trade to impede foreign companies.

Having defeated the Democrats’ filibuster, a simply majority of Republicans in the Senate can give the president “fast track” authority to negotiate a treaty and submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

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