Democrats square off over trade negotiating bill

Democrats square off over trade negotiating bill

Aaron Bernstein

Obama said during a news conference that some Democrats and labor unions would oppose the pact, while others "believe that we cannot stop a global economy at our shores." But he said previous trade agreements reached during his presidency did not divide the party.

Congressional Democrats drew battle lines on Friday over a new bill that would give the White House "fast track" authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, with some vowing to block the massive trade pact.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who co-authored the legislation introduced on Thursday with top Republicans overseeing trade issues, said it would attract votes from trade-wary Democrats. But he was not yet ready to predict passage.

"I believe there will be Democratic support, number one. I believe it will pass the Finance Committee," Wyden told a media breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The measure would give lawmakers the right to set negotiating objectives, but would restrict them to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals such as the TPP, a potentially defining achievement for President Obama.

But Democrats worried that another free trade deal would siphon away U.S. manufacturing jobs, as the North American Free Trade Agreement did in the 1990s.

"We're going to work to defeat it," Representative Sander Levin said of the fast-track authority legislation, arguing that it would cede too much negotiating leverage to gain protections against currency manipulation and environmental and labor standards in developing countries.

Obama said the trade promotion authority agreement is among the most far-reaching and progressive that have gone through Congress. He warned that if the United States does not help shape rules for American businesses to compete in Asia markets, China will.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson, Jeff Mason, David Lawder; Editing by Doina Chiacu)