Trade deal pits Georgia Democrats against Obama

Atlanta-area U.S. Reps. David Scott and Hank Johnson heard the lobbying pitch but aren’t budging. The Obama administration doesn’t even bother trying with Rep. John Lewis.

“They know where I am,” Lewis said last week.

The 15-term Atlanta congressman was strolling across the Capitol grounds in the sunlight, heading to a Ways and Means Committee hearing room where he would continue to fight against a major priority for President Barack Obama that’s fracturing his party: free trade.

The Obama administration has been part of negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership since 2009 and wants to limit Congress’ ability to amend a pending deal, which could disrupt the delicate negotiations.

The proposal to give Obama Trade Promotion Authority advanced out of committee both in the House and Senate last week with mostly Republican support.

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In the Ways and Means Committee, Lewis tried to attach labor and human rights strings to the deal, and his amendment was voted down. He opposed the bill.

Lewis also voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and said the decline of U.S. textile manufacturing since then has validated organized labor’s fears.

“We went through it with NAFTA,” Lewis said. “I’ve been down this road before. And I saw what it did to places in Georgia.”

Obama agreed that NAFTA fell short when he took his trade pitch to MSNBC last week, telling host Chris Matthews that it should have done more on labor and environmental standards. But he vowed that would change in this new deal.

“The fastest-growing, most-populous region in the world is in the Asia-Pacific region,” Obama said.

“So we’ve pulled together 11 countries to come up with a high-standard, enforceable trade provision that has unprecedented labor standards, unprecedented environmental standards, fixes a lot of the problems that you had in things like NAFTA.

“And ultimately, I would not be putting this forward if I was not absolutely certain that this was going to be good for American workers.”

The administration escalated its public and private persuasion last week, combating labor unions and populist favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., ahead of what could be tight floor votes.

Behind the scenes, the appeal can turn emotional. Johnson said the White House has wooed him by saying some of the most conservative Republicans will oppose Trade Promotion Authority — despite granting it to previous presidents — because of their visceral dislike of Obama, so his allies need to stand strong.

“I’m sensitive to that, also,” Johnson said. “And so it pains me to be on the other side of this question. But there are some big issues involved, and they involve people’s jobs.”

There’s also a separation-of-powers concern.

“Congress is losing its influence bit by bit by bit and particularly on these foreign matters,” Scott said. “And I think it puts our country at a great disadvantage the more Congress cedes this. …

“Obama’s just going to be here 20 more months. Who’s going to be the next president? We have to be careful about that. It could be a Republican president. Democrats are going to be on the other end saying, ‘God, we shouldn’t have done that.’ ”

Georgia’s multinational corporations, farmers and ports could benefit from increased Pacific trade, but the state’s Democrats said they were not feeling the heat from those interests.

Still, the fourth Democrat in the delegation, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, remains in play. He declined an interview last week as he continues to solicit input.

Is that the White House again on line two?

Bank on it

Television viewers along the Georgia coast and inland toward Waycross for the next week are being urged to pressure their congressman, Republican U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler. It’s a renewal of two extended feuds.

The topic is the Export-Import Bank, the government-sponsored entity that gives loans to finance foreign purchases of U.S. exports. The more conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to kill it, making charges of “crony capitalism.” The Chamber of Commerce wing wants to keep it to create jobs, saying the bank does not cost taxpayers and levels the international playing field.

The Club for Growth is in the former camp and says it is spending “six figures” on television to go after Carter and sway him to vote against renewing the bank’s charter.

For Carter, sparring with the group is nothing new. It dropped $387,000 in attacks on Carter last summer when he was seeking the open congressional seat in a Republican runoff against Savannah surgeon Bob Johnson.

Carter won the electoral round. The Export-Import vote is due before the bank’s charter expires June 30.

Vote of the week

On Thursday the U.S. Senate voted, 56-43, to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general of the United States.

No: U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and David Perdue, R-Ga.

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