WASHINGTON -- The push by President Barack Obama and Republicans for gigantic new trade deals meets the definition of insanity, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) charged in a Senate floor speech Wednesday.
The president and Republican leaders are pushing hard to pass legislation known as Trade Promotion Authority that allows a White House to fast-track trade deals through Congress with no amendments, no procedural hurdles or filibusters, and a simple up-or-down vote in limited amount of time.
That fast-track authority likely would make it possible for the Obama administration to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. Together, those pacts would cover about 80 percent of the global economy.
The much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s covered about 10 percent of the word's trade, and Reid said that deal and many since have all been disastrous for American workers, costing millions of jobs.
"It causes huge job losses," Reid said. "As Einstein said, you keep doing the same thing over and over again, and you expect a different result, that's the definition of insanity."
"We can look at these trade bills over the years -- every one of them without exception causes to American workers job losses. Millions of job losses," Reid added. "But yet they're going to try the same thing again and hope for a different result. That's insanity."
Obama has tried to counter such complaints by pointing to some of the benefits of free trade deals, insisting they do create jobs, and that his will be the "most progressive" trade pact in history. He's also accused people like Reid and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) of "making stuff up."
"I would not be promoting any agreement that I didn't think at the end of the day was going to be creating jobs in the United States and giving us more of an opportunity to create ladders of success, higher incomes and higher wages for the American people, because that's my primary focus," Obama argued last week.
Democrats have pushed back on that, though, with Warren releasing a report this week that details the same sorts of promises made in trade agreements for decades, most of which were broken, according the report.
Obama got support Wednesday from his would-be trade ally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who spoke just before Reid, accusing Democrats of blocking progress and jobs for America.
“Our friends on the far left may try to cynically spin their war against the future as something other than what it truly is, but we know better," McConnell said. "It’s no wonder President Obama has called them 'wrong' and suggested they make stuff up."
He said the main result of failing to craft trade agreements that lower barriers would be to cost the United States and its businesses markets.
“What happens if the far left actually succeeds in its apparent quest to retain foreign tariffs that unfairly impact American workers and their paychecks?" McConnell said. “It would mean lost opportunities for American risk-takers. ... It would mean lost opportunities for American manufacturing, lost opportunities for Kentucky farmers and lost opportunities for more jobs, better wages and a growing economy that can lift everyone up."
A vote on the Senate's fast-track bill could come by the end of the week. If McConnell can find a way to satisfy about a dozen Democratic fast-track backers in negotiations of amendments, it is likely to pass. Such agreement remained uncertain Wednesday, however, and prospects for the measure's success in the House are also highly uncertain, with most Democrats there, as well as dozens of Republicans, opposed.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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