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Nation/World

February 19, 2014

Obama, Dems at odds on big trade bills

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama wants to put major emerging trade deals with Europe and Asia on a “fast track” to congressional passage. But with midterm elections looming, many fellow Democrats are working to sidetrack them instead.

At the same time, Obama has found an ally in a traditional foe, Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

If ratified, the proposals — the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific Trade and Investment Partnerships — would create the largest free-trade zone in the world, covering roughly half of all global trade.

In his State of the Union address, Obama asked Congress to give him “trade promotion authority,” usually known as fast track, to negotiate the twin trade deals. But the separate negotiations with the European Union and 11 Pacific Rim nations are generating strong emotions at home and abroad.

Many Democrats up for re-election in November are fearful of drawing primary-election opposition over the trade talks. Concerned about lost jobs that are important to labor unions, they’re abandoning Obama on this issue.

Late last year in fact, 151 House Democrats, roughly three quarters of the chamber’s Democratic membership, signed a letter to Obama signaling their opposition to granting him fast-track trade authority.

Obama said his goal in requesting such authority was “to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.”’ But the president, never known as an enthusiastic free-trader in the past, has yet to make an all-out push for the authority, which was last approved by Congress in 2002 for President George W. Bush but expired in 2007.

Meanwhile, some European allies are pushing back, still peeved over disclosures of National Security Agency surveillance of them.

Obama had hoped an agreement could be reached on the trans-Pacific talks before he visited Japan and other Asian nations in April. The Pacific talks are further along than the Atlantic ones.

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