Illinois Dems Deserting Obama on 'Fast Track' Trade Bill
Illinois—home of big exporters such as Caterpillar, Boeing and ADM, with lots of employees who appreciate the virtues of low tariffs and high overseas sales—has a reputation of being a free-trade state. But it's hard to tell that this year.
As President Barack Obama puts on a full-court press to win so-called fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, he's getting precious little support back home, particularly in his own party.
Of the state's 11 Democrats in Congress—10 House members plus U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin—only one now is committed to voting yes. That would be Mike Quigley of Chicago's North Side. A couple of others, including Durbin, are on the fence, but the others are against it or reliably reported by Illinois delegation members to be headed that way.
Republicans are more willing. I know of no one who is flatly against. But there's some hedging there, too, as members express concerns about everything from an alleged loss of jobs under NAFTA to reluctance to give Obama the power to submit trade deals to a single up-or-down vote without considering amendments.
Fast track, formally known as Trade Promotion Authority, "would give away Congress' constitutional authority on trade, increasing the likelihood of another trade agreement that destroys American jobs," said Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat known for being relatively conservative. "We cannot afford another bad trade agreement that only benefits large corporations."
Similar thoughts come from Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago. "Our recent history has taught us that the trade deals our country has enacted have a negative impact on the American workforce," he said in a statement. "These trade deals have been nothing more than a tourniquet that denied the flow from the poor to rise to the middle class."
I'm told other local Democrats are equally vociferous in their opposition, such as Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston and U.S. Senate hopeful Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates. Their offices did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
The only Illinois Democrat who appears to be joining Durbin on the fence now is Naperville's Bill Foster.
"Sen. Durbin hasn't said how he'll vote," his office reported. But he did vote against fast track the last time it came up, in 2002.
Foster, too, is waiting, but his office says the current bill "falls short" of the enforceable language banning currency manipulation that he wants.
That leaves Quigley, who dubs fast track "right for the city, my state and my district." He rattled off a series of local manufacturers that he said have urged him to vote yes. "We are 5 percent of the world's economy. We're not going to do very well trading merely among ourselves," he said. "This is not NAFTA. There's much more enforcement . . . much more transparency."
Among Republicans on the pro side is Joliet's Adam Kinzinger. "Access to new markets and establishing rules that are fair to all participants are critical to creating an environment where our economy can thrive," he said in a statement.
Another, Wheaton's Randy Hultgren, appears to be a "yes" vote, too, but is leaving himself some wiggle room.
"I support the ability of our manufacturers and businesses to compete in the global marketplace on a level playing field. When they succeed, our country succeeds," he said in a statement. "However, any trade agreement must be evaluated and judged on its own merits. . . .Ultimately, Congress must maintain the authority in any legislation to approve or disapprove any negotiated trade deal."
Fast track would so allow.
Nationally, some reports say as few as 15 Democrats are prepared to vote for the bill. If so, it will lose, because Republicans are not united on this one.
Things look somewhat more positive in the Senate. It's expected to come up for a vote before the House, later this month.
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