Washington – Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Joe Courtney and Elizabeth Esty, all Democrats, helped hand President Obama an embarrassing defeat Friday on his trade agenda.
“Eastern Connecticut has borne the harmful impacts of previous flawed trade agreements, as jobs have been shipped overseas, leaving workers and their families to pick up the pieces,” said Courtney, D-2nd District.
But another Connecticut lawmaker who voted to support the president on Friday rebuked his fellow Democrats.
“Those who look backward instead of forward will ultimately fail the very people they seek to represent,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
With the help of Republican lawmakers, Obama hoped to win a House vote on trade promotion authority, also called fast-track legislation, that would help him negotiate a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations. The fast-track bill would prohibit Congress from amending a final trade deal, allowing only an up or down vote on the agreement.
The fast-track bill, which has passed the Senate, was coupled to legislation that would extend a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance that helps workers when their jobs are lost because of overseas trade.
Most Republicans dislike the TAA program, considering it a form of welfare. Conversely, the program is popular with Democrats.
But on Friday most House Democrats decided to join Republicans in voting against the TAA bill, knowing its defeat would make a subsequent vote on the fast track bill – which was approved 219 to 211 – largely symbolic.
The Senate’s fast-track legislation includes reauthorization of the TAA program, and unless the House legislation includes the worker protection program, the process would move back to square one in the Senate, where Democrats would filibuster any legislation without TAA.
House Speaker John Boehner, R- Ohio, said he will try to bring up the TAA legislation again Tuesday in the hopes it will pass and can be sent with the fast-track bill to Obama’s desk for signature.
“This isn’t over yet,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Since it failed on a 126-302 vote, many lawmakers will have to change their position for the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill to pass.
On Friday, DeLauro, Courtney and Esty voted with the majority against the TAA bill. Reps. John Larson, D-1st District, who opposes fast track, and Himes voted for it.
“Today, the House voted to end the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provided aid and training to millions of American workers, hobbled a Democratic president and told the world that we prefer that China set the rules and values that govern trade in the Pacific,” Himes said.
Larson said he voted for the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill “to ensure this vital program is continued.”
“While there was certainly room for improvement in the bill, especially on the overall funding levels, we must be careful to prevent the pursuit of the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good,” Larson said
Obama had made an unexpected trip to Capitol Hill Friday to plead with balky Democrats, but his party’s members were under intense pressure from their Democratic constituencies, who want to derail the trade deal.
Labor and environmental groups are leading the opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it would result in a loss of U.S. jobs and a degradation of environmental regulations.
Courtney said he met personally with many displaced workers “whose jobs fell victim to international markets distorted by unfair trade practices.” Courtney said he is concerned the fast-track bill, which gives the president six years of negotiating authority, “ lacks critical safeguards on currency manipulation, food safety, and consumer protection. “
Esty said she opposed the fast-track bill for many of the same reasons – and because it would result in a loss of U.S. jobs and depressed wages.
“Trade policy should add American jobs and raise, not lower, American wages,” Esty said.
Meanwhile, DeLauro has stood out as a leader in the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“As the dean of our delegation, Rosa DeLauro, has so eloquently stated throughout the year the legislation’s deficiencies on labor protections, the environment, human rights, and currency manipulation resulted in it being a fundamentally flawed bill, which is why I voted ‘no,’” Larson said.
At a press conference this week, DeLauro minimized the impact of the rift between congressional Democrats and the White House.
“We are long-time supporters of the president on a variety of issues,” she said. “We disagree with him on this issue, and this is in keeping with American democracy.”
Ryan, meanwhile, thanked Democrats like Himes who support the fast track bill.
“I’m very proud of the pro-trade Democrats who stuck to their word,” he said.