President Barack Obama is facing renewed opposition to his effort to implement so-called "fast track" trade promotion authority, a power that would enable him to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress.
Democrats are rallying a coalition of labor, environmental, and religious groups, backed by a core group of lawmakers, to fight the implementation of the promotion authority they say would give the president free rein to arrange trade deals without input from Congress and with no regard for job loss, food safety, and financial regulation.
Trade promotion authority would grant Congress an "up or down" vote on any trade deal that reached Capitol Hill.
"This is one of the broadest advocacy coalitions that we’ve had," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), who is leading the coalition, said during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday. "There is no reason why we should exacerbate the loss of jobs or lower wages in the United States."
Chief among the coalition's concerns is Obama's would-be approval of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would lower trade barriers between the U.S. and 12 nations that make up 40 percent of the global economy.
Critics say the deal threatens civil liberties, workers rights, public health, food safety, and global financial stability. Its secretive negotiations are also a contentious issue, as the full text of the trade deal itself remains hidden from Congress and the public view, while representatives from banks, pharmaceutical companies, and other corporate interests have been allowed access to the documents.
DeLauro, who has argued for months that the agreements "go well beyond trade," said Congress must be involved in negotiating a deal with such potentially far-reaching impacts.
"An up or down vote is simply not acceptable," DeLauro said at Thursday's press conference.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) agreed, stating that fast track authority should not be an option for the president, and that the government should instead focus on "creating good paying jobs for people here in America."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the union organization, which is involved in the coalition, "doesn't just oppose fast track, we're fighting to kill it. And we're fighting to win."
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) told a labor forum on Wednesday that these kinds of trade agreements are part of what has "left America’s middle class in a deep hole."
Some Democratic support for fast track authority still remains in both houses of Congress, however. And Republicans continued to reiterate their support of trade promotion authority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on Wednesday that the GOP is willing to give the White House that "enormous grant of power" because "that’s how much we believe in trade as an important part of America's economy."