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Coalition Builds Against Bush's Latest "Free" Trade Demands

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The Hill Newspaper has an encouraging piece today about intensifying efforts to prevent Democrats and Republicans from reauthorizing "fast track" authority, which lets presidents ram lobbyist-written trade deals through Congress. Here are some details:

The AFL-CIO, United Autoworkers and other groups representing organized labor are pressing Democrats to deny the Bush administration an extension of its authority to send free-trade deals to Congress for up or down votes, partly by reminding lawmakers of the role trade played in Democrats' re-taking of majorities in the House and Senate...Labor groups already helped organize a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) from 39 members of the freshman House Democratic class that said the "vocal stand against the administration's misguided trade agenda" was vital to their electoral success. AFL-CIO Assistant Director for International Economics Thea Lee said the group is "flat-out opposed" to extending the existing fast-track authority, which expires at the end of June, and sees an extension limited to allowing the Bush administration to finish negotiations on the current World Trade Organization talks, known as the Doha round, as a non-starter.

As usual, the article cites former Clinton administration officials demanding Democrats relent and pass fast track. This is something they've been doing since right after the election. But the AFL-CIO's Lee puts them in their place:

Some key Democratic figures, including former President Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling, have already spoken out in favor of at least extending fast track to allow the Bush administration to complete the Doha talks. During a hearing on trade and globalization last week, Sperling warned Ways and Means members that Congress could be seen as killing Doha if it did not extend fast track. Alluding to global warming and the Iraq war, he said this would contribute to international sentiment that the U.S. is intent on taking a unilateral approach to global issues. Lee said such arguments might sound good to the Brookings Institution, a centrist Democratic think tank, but will not play well in the heartland. She said granting the administration a short-term extension of fast track to conclude Doha should be a non-starter for Congress. (Emphasis added)

This last point about "free" trade rhetoric playing well in Washington but being strongly rejected in the heartland is one many people inside the Beltway either do not understand, or do not want to understand because it gets in the way of D.C.'s favorite sport: shilling for Big Money interests. That we just had an election that repudiated both Washington's pay-to-play culture and its lobbyist-written "free" trade ideology seems at best like an afterthought to these people. But if/when they try to ram "fast track" down the throat of America, both Democrats and Republicans should expect very strong pushback.

UPDATE: As Alan Tonelson notes, just a few weeks ago, Sperling actually admitted in congressional testimony that at the tail end of its term when it was pushing more "free" trade deals, the Clinton administration "simply presented all the positive facts that existed, as opposed to giving a balanced assessment of what had been successful or had not worked in NAFTA." In other words, even as the Clintonites push "fast track" and more lobbyist-written trade deals, they are acknowledging that they have relied on presenting a distorted picture in order to get their way. As Tonelson says, "Sperling has all but announced to you that he deserves no credibility on trade policy." So why do Democrats still give people like him a forum?