Obama defends, pitches TPP trade deal as Democrats balk

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

President Barack Obama has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism over a pair of trade deals being negotiated among Pacific nations and the EU, mostly from his own party. On Thursday, he defended the deals as “vital” for the middle class.

Speaking to some 200 people at the Organizing for Action advocacy
group – set up after Obama’s election to advance aligned
interests – Obama said the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would
be a boon to the US economy and workers. He also deflected
critics who argue it is just like the North Atlantic Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), which has been widely criticized by liberals
as a drag on job creation.

“That’s not the trade agreement I’m passing,” Obama
said, referring to NAFTA. “You need to tell me what’s wrong
with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years

Image from whitehouse.gov

In defending deals like the TPP, which is currently being drafted
among 12 Pacific nations including the US, Japan, Vietnam, Canada
and Australia, Obama noted that 95 percent of customers are
outside of America. He said that the fastest growing markets are
in Asia, adding that companies that export products typically pay
Americans more than others do.

“When people say that this trade deal is bad for working
families, they don’t know what they’re talking about,”
said. “I take that personally. My entire presidency has been
about helping working families.”

“The Chamber of Commerce didn’t elect me twice – working
folks did,”
he said.

The same day Obama spoke, the White House published an infographic depicting how the
TPP protects workers and the environment compared to NAFTA.

Supporters of the TPP say it will open up new markets for
American products, but opponents have raised concerns over a
number of issues, including currency manipulation, environmental
protections, internet privacy and more. Additionally, they say it
will cost Americans jobs at home while only benefitting

“I spent a lot of time and a lot of political capital to save
the auto industry,”
Obama said, banging the lectern with a
pointed finger for emphasis. “Why would I pass a deal that
would be bad for US auto workers?”

Nevertheless, Democrats continued to criticize the president over
the TPP, as well as another trade deal being negotiated with the
European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment

“I think if you could get my colleagues to be honest, on the
Democratic side, with you ‒ and I think you can mostly ‒ they
will say they’ve been talked to, approached, lobbied and maybe
cajoled by more cabinet members on this issue than any issue
since Barack Obama’s been president,”
Sen. Sherrod Brown
(D-Ohio) told the Huffington Post. “That’s just sad,”

Brown said the administration should be spending more time
pushing a higher minimum wage, strengthening regulations on Wall
Street and expanding Medicare.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), an influential lawmaker
among the Democratic Party’s left-wing, has also hammered Obama
for not publicizing the details of the TPP.

“It’s the case that the president says he wants the American
people to judge this deal based on the facts, but to do that,
he’s got to make the deal public. Otherwise the American people
can’t judge it on the facts. He won’t put the facts out
she said.

Despite objections by Democrats, Congress has moved forward with
granting Obama the authority to expedite the approval of
international trade deals. With the help of Republicans who
generally favor trade deals, panels in the Senate and House of
Representatives have passed measures to let the president
“fast-track” the deals – meaning Congress would only be able to
vote up or down on a finalized agreement and not offer
amendments. The measures will move on to a full vote in their
respective chambers next.

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