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Free Trade
Obama's Latest Obstacle: The Democrats

When it comes to passing massive trade deals with Europe and the Pacific, President Obama’s biggest opponent may not be France or Japan or even the Republicans, but his allies in the Democratic Party. As the FT reports, a number of Democratic Senators and Congressmen reacted negatively to efforts to fast-track the trade deals through Congress. There are now questions as to whether the measures will have enough votes to pass:

Support for the deals with Asia and Europe are a staple of Mr Obama’s speech on the economy but White House officials say there are no plans at the moment for a concerted push to get Democratic votes.

Bill Reinsch, of the National Foreign Trade Council, which is in favour of more open markets, says estimates that about 50 Democrats in the House were ready to back TPA–enough to get it passed with Republican support–were overly optimistic.

“The administration is in the right place philosophically but there will need to some arm-twisting from the White House like there was with Nafta,” he said.

In an age where free trade agreements are more about harmonizing regulations between countries rather than just lowering tariffs, it’s no great surprise that congressional Democrats are leery of deals that would sideline them, particularly when that would threaten their access to lobbyists’ dollars. But as we noted late last year, the real news here is how President Obama’s unpopularity is making it considerably easier for members of his own party to oppose him in this way. As the FT points out, Obama may need to do some arm-twisting to get this deal through. The question now is whether he still has the influence within his own party to pull it off.

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