Washington – Rep. Jim Himes, targeted as a key swing vote, has decided to back President Obama on legislation that would help the president negotiate a controversial trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.
“Passions are very high on this, but at the end of the day my responsibility is to my district and to my constituents,” Himes said.
The decision provoked a strong reaction from the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which has been battling the proposed trade pact, saying it will kill U.S. jobs and lower wages.
“Rep. Himes’ decision today to support Wall Street profits over Main Street jobs will live long in the memory of 4th District working men and women,” said Lori Pelletier, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.
Meanwhile, a coalition of business and agriculture groups that includes General Electric and United Technologies Corp. among its members, praised Himes for his decision.
“Employers in Connecticut want to see Congress get things done and focus on economic growth, so Congressman Himes’s support for this bipartisan trade bill is an important step towards delivering on both of those fronts,” said David Thomas, president of the Trade Benefits America Coalition.”Trade is critical for the Connecticut economy…Congressman Himes’s leadership on trade is quite welcome and deserves support.”
Himes, D-4th District, was one of about a dozen House Democrats undecided about whether to support trade promotion authority, also known as “fast track,” that would allow the president to send trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Obama said he needs that authority to successfully negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations.
Himes said Wednesday he has decided to vote for the fast-track bill after carefully studying the legislation and “the latest negotiating documents.”
“I looked at the TPP documents and said, ‘Wow, there is the potential of some very good things to come out of this, including increased exports and jobs,’” Himes said.
Even so, Himes said he has not yet decided how he will vote on a final TPP agreement. But, he said, he wanted to vote for the fast-track bill “because without it, you never get to look at the TPP.”
Most House Democrats oppose the fast-track bill because they would like to derail the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Organized labor is battling the TPP because it says it would move American jobs overseas. Environmental and safety advocates say the trade pact could weaken U.S. regulations.
“As a former worker at Pratt & Whitney and a 29-year member of the International Association of Machinists, I know how bad these trade deals have been for American workers,” said the AFL-CIO’s Pelletier. “Millions of jobs have been lost because of NAFTA, and the TPP will be even more expansive.”
But the trade issue has created a rare alliance between congressional Republicans, who largely back the TPP, and Obama.
About 20 House Democrats have said they will back the fast track bill. Another 20 or so were undecided and targeted by the Obama administration.
Himes said he spoke with Obama three times on the issue and that it “feels like I have spoken to half the cabinet.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said most, but not all, House Republicans will vote for the fast-track bill. Boehner is thought to need several dozen Democratic votes.
Himes said the fact that Connecticut is an exporting state helped him make up his mind. He said Connecticut exports $16.4 billion worth of goods every year, and about $12 billion of those goods come from his Fairfield County-based district.
Himes is the only member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to support the fast-track bill. He said he began late Tuesday to inform his colleagues about his decision, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, a leader of the opposition to the TPP.