Politics

This Democratic Senator Is Doing All He Can To Kill Obama's Trade Agenda

WASHINGTON -- If you didn鈥檛 know Sen. Sherrod Brown before, you probably do now.

Brown (D-Ohio) has made a name for himself during the Senate fight over President Barack Obama鈥檚 trade agenda, and is raising hell with Republicans, who just want to give Obama what he wants 鈥- yes, you read that right.

Brown doesn鈥檛 want Congress to approve legislation that would give Obama expedited, or fast-track authority, to win congressional approval for trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership now being negotiated by the U.S. and 11 Pacific nations. Fast track would prohibit amendments to the trade pacts and only allow up-or-down votes.

Brown may not receive as much attention as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is getting in the ongoing fight between Obama's administration and Senate Democrats, but he鈥檚 doing everything he can to make drastic changes to the bill that would grant Obama the so-called trade promotion authority.

In an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday, Brown laid out his strategy, which is to talk to everyone and push them to support measures that would toughen enforcement of trade laws.

鈥淚鈥檓 working with everybody. I met with the number two Republican in the Senate earlier this morning to talk about my Level the Playing Field Act,鈥 Brown said of his proposal to fight back against countries that aren鈥檛 playing fair in trade cases. 鈥淚鈥檝e got all kinds of Republican sponsors on that. We鈥檝e been successful working across party lines, and we鈥檝e been successful working with those Democrats -- the dozen or so who are for fast track.鈥

So what's the point, if Brown expects Republicans to ultimately prevail? 鈥淥bviously, shine a light,鈥 he said.

鈥淭he more the public sees it, the more we shine a light on a trade agreement, that it鈥檚 debated in Congress, the less the public likes these trade agreements," he said. "These trade agreements don鈥檛 work for our country."

That isn鈥檛 stopping Obama. He's putting on a full-court press to get Congress to give him the extra powers.

鈥淚t鈥檚 shameful if TPA passes, leading to the Trans-Pacific Partnership being agreed to ultimately," Brown said. "It鈥檚 shameful if we don鈥檛 do what we ought to do for workers.鈥

As of Tuesday evening, the Senate hadn't voted on more amendments to the TPA bill, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated he鈥檇 like to cut off debate and take a final vote by Thursday.

Brown is the reason. He stayed on the Senate floor all afternoon on Tuesday, working to get the specific amendments for Democrats.

Brown said Democrats are responsible for getting votes on his amendment 鈥渢o close the 85-year loophole that allows child labor products into the United States.鈥 And he wants a vote on currency manipulation.

鈥淐hina clearly has been gaming the currency system, as has Japan -- making sure that those rules are in place,鈥 Brown said. 鈥淪o all those amendments will be up this week. We鈥檙e working to include them in this central TPA fast-track package.鈥

Don Stewart, spokesman for McConnell, said Tuesday evening that Democrats were blocking all votes on amendments, calling the tactic, 鈥渨ell, something.鈥 A Democratic aide said Brown was at the center of it, working to get a deal from Republicans on a package of amendments that both sides could agree to vote on. Brown canceled his afternoon schedule to do it.

The holdup forced McConnell鈥檚 hand Tuesday night, with the Senate leader saying a way forward remained elusive. 鈥淣ow we鈥檝e got the whole processed stymied because we can鈥檛 seem to get agreements for any additional amendments," McConnell said. "I think we all know this is a body that requires some level of cooperation and that just hasn鈥檛 been here on this bipartisan bill.鈥

Brown holds no illusions and expects the Senate 鈥渨ill ultimately pass鈥 fast-track. That's why he has a backup plan -- the House.

鈥淪enators, for whatever reason -- I don鈥檛 know if it鈥檚 because senators know more CEOs, or senators hang out more rarified air, I don鈥檛 know -- but senators always support free trade agreements more than House members,鈥 Brown said. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 think we can defeat it in the Senate. I鈥檓 still hopeful in the House.鈥

House GOP leaders have yet to say if they will take up a customs enforcement bill that bans goods made with child labor, and cracks down on countries that try to make their products cheaper by devaluing their own currencies. It passed the Senate last week, but Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won鈥檛 have to bring it to the floor unless House Democrats refuse to move TPA without voting on it.

鈥淲e鈥檙e also pushing the House to actually move on the customs bill," Brown said. "So we鈥檙e kind of following two tracks on this, to make sure that we can get this in place.鈥

Brown didn鈥檛 mince words: He wants TPA to fail, and he thinks Congress can improve the legislation it is set to vote on this week.

鈥淚deally, I want TPA to be defeated in the House, because I think even with trade enforcement help for workers, it does more damage passing TPA than the things we want to dress it up with,鈥 Brown said.

McConnell and many of his fellow Republicans argue the opposite, saying a vote for fast-track is one for the middle class.

鈥淭he truth is, just about every serious public official knows that eliminating the restrictions that hurt American workers and American goods is good for our country,鈥 McConnell said during remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, adding that knocking down 鈥渦nfair trade barriers鈥 in Europe and the Pacific could lead to 1.4 million U.S. jobs.

Brown doesn鈥檛 see it that way.

鈥淚 don鈥檛 like exaggeration, and I won鈥檛 quite say it鈥檚 a death knell for communities like the one I grew up in, but it heaps one more disaster from globalization on another,鈥 Brown said. 鈥淚n a place like Mansfield, Ohio, where I grew up, which used to have six or eight major manufacturers and five dozen small manufacturers, most of them are gone. The rest of them, by and large, will be gone, if we don鈥檛 take care of worker enforcement on trade law and if we don鈥檛 help those workers that lose their jobs.鈥

Elizabeth Warren