If you’ve visited the Seattle Times’ website recently, you probably noticed a rather large, full-page ad having to do with Democrat U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene. And, if you inspected said ad very closely (as it is small lettering), you probably noticed that none other than the AFL-CIO is paying for it. You may have even asked yourself why a big labor group like the AFL-CIO would (seemingly) attack one of their beloved Democrats. Well, here’s why.
DelBene is a member of President Obama’s Export Council, an advisory panel on trade agreement. And, perhaps more importantly, she is also “one of several dozen House members who could provide the White House the margin it needs to obtain “fast-track” authority, which would enable Obama to more freely negotiate the massive Pacific trade deal.” “Fast Track”—i.e. the Trade Promotion Authority—would give the president the power to complete trade deals with an up-or-down votes from Congress. It would also place passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the largest trade deal in U.S. history (involving 12 Pacific-rim nations)—well within reach.
Fast Track has placed Democrats at odds with one another—Obama supports it, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Big Labor oppose it. Unions like the AFL-CIO claim it lacks transparency, reduces collective bargaining power and restricts the power of Congress—you can check out why that is a highly hypocritical argument here. But, for unions, perhaps the most unbearable aspect of Fast Track is what the promotion authority would bring about: passage of the TPP.
Proponents of the TPP estimate that the agreement would lead to a 0.4% lift the U.S.’s gross domestic product by 2025. Experts also predict that, far from union claims, “U.S. exports, especially agriculture, will become more competitive, and other key industries such as high-tech services and finance could get a boost.” On the other hand, unions claim the TPP would lead to job outsourcing and environmental degradation—though Obama claims that the agreement would boost labor and environmental standards.
In any case, for its full-page ad the AFL-CIO urges readers to sign a petition demanding DelBene vote “no” on fast track. Interestingly enough, in order to get people’s attention, the AFL-CIO chooses the “there will be poison in your food supply” scare tactic rather than the old union protectionism messaging, which is failing nationwide. The ad reads, “Fast Track: Unregulated chemicals and banned toxins in our food. Tell Rep. DelBene to stop Fast Track.”
So, how will DelBene likely vote? Delbene told the Seattle Times back in January that she would “vote to give Obama trade promotion authority only if trade agreements contain strong, enforceable environmental and labor protection.” She recently fed Politico the same line. Politico,
“DelBene’s decision — and the votes of a few dozen Democrats in Congress — will make or break Obama’s legacy on trade as he tries to win fast-track trade negotiating authority in order to wrap up a five-year effort to close the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending deals.
“‘As I have said all along, for any trade promotion authority bill to gain my support, it must require strong, enforceable environmental and labor protections,’” she told POLITICO in an email.”
It’s unclear whether or not a recent “inclusion of trade adjustment assistance, a program that provides job retraining benefits to workers displaced by trade deals” will be enough to meet DelBene’s “labor protections” standards. DelBene told Politico “she was encouraged that Republicans have agreed to move a bill to renew the worker assistance program alongside the fast-track bill.” She said, “[Trade adjustment assistance] has helped many in my district get the skills they need to stay competitive, and it is a much-needed program to protect our workforce. I will continue to closely monitor this bill as it moves through the legislative process.”
DelBene’s final vote is hard to predict—this is the first trade vote she will take since being elected in 2012. And, as Politico puts it, she is under a lot of pressure as she is “caught in the crossfire” between Obama and the Big Labor/Sen. Warren.
You can check out screen shots of the AFL-CIO’s ads below: