Obama’s Democrats Block Progress on Trade Deal

President Barack Obama’s own Democrats refuse to give him negotiating authority for a twelve-nation trade deal.

Democratic senator Harry Reid of Nevada answers questions from reporters at the Capitol in Washington DC, May 6, 2014
Democratic senator Harry Reid of Nevada answers questions from reporters at the Capitol in Washington DC, May 6, 2014 (Flickr/Senate Democrats)

President Barack Obama’s own party on Tuesday blocked legislation that should have advanced trade talks with eleven other Pacific nations, including Canada and Japan.

The United States Senate voted 52-45 on a proposal to give the president “fast track” authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership, short of the sixty votes needed to override a Democratic filibuster.

Most Republicans, who have a four-seat majority in the upper chamber, support the trade deal while many Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, are critical. They fear liberalizing 40 percent of world trade will depress wages in the United States and see more manufacturing jobs outsourced to Asia.

Their resistance makes it harder for Obama to get the deal done. Other governments are reluctant to make concessions if they fear Congress will interfere with parts of the treaty. “Fast track” would give the president complete negotiating authority and allow lawmakers only an up-or-down vote on the final text.

Some Democrats said on Tuesday there was still hope. Delaware’s Chris Coons told reporters the vote was only a “warning shot” — “that without worker protections, without enforcement provisions,” the party could not give the president the negotiating power he wanted.

But Republicans and trade unions agreed this was a defeat for Obama. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was “shocking” Democrats would not back their own president while Richard Trumka, the boss of America’s biggest union federation, called it a “big win.”

Politico reports it may be weeks before another vote is called. The more time goes by, the more politics can get in the way of the TPP treaty, the political news website warns.

Every day that goes by is another day closer to the 2016 election and the possibility that trade could get even more tangled in the presidential race, not to mention all of the seats of nervous Democrats up next year. It’s also another day closer to the October 2015 elections in Canada, where TPP isn’t nearly as politicized but still not something that the Canadian government wants looming as they head to the polls up north.

Supporters say the Trans Pacific Partnership would boost global economic output by $220 billion over the next ten years.

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