Larson Feeling Friction In Fast-Track Trade Authority Issue

Friction between pro-trade Democrats and the unions that usually support them seems to be coming to a head in the contentious issue of trade promotion authority, the power President Barack Obama wants in order to negotiate trade agreements.

Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, is a prime example, an ardent union supporter who also favors liberalized trade deals if, he says, they can be made to work for American workers.

Larson is under pressure from the AFL-CIO to join other Democrats — and some conservative Republicans — in spurning trade promotion authority, known as fast-track, to prevent the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which labor and other groups say would kill more U.S. jobs.

Larson, seeking middle ground, joined several members of Congress in a letter to Obama late Friday calling for modifications to fast-track, the last version of which expired in 2007. The letter called for a more meaningful role for Congress in the next trade authorization, an expansion of assistance for workers who lose their jobs due to foreign competition and more funding for U.S. enforcement agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

"Any proposed negotiating authority should help our country and its workers better compete in the modern global economy," read an excerpt of the letter released by Larson. "A new TPA should include incentives to help keep well-paying jobs at home, and to help spur new American innovation and job creation across all sectors of our economy."

AFL-CIO and other groups are not won over by that language, however. In October, AFL-CIO was to be part of a protest at Larson's office in Hartford over the Congressman's refusal to oppose fast-track outright. The labor coalition pulled out of the picketing in favor of more discussion and on Friday, spokesman David Dal Zin issued a written statement.

"Connecticut's working families have been harmed by bad trade deals that were eased through Congress with the help of fast-track, so we appreciate Rep. Larson's effort to highlight fast-track's shortcomings," the statement said.

The statement called for Congress to have, in essence, veto power over fast-tracked trade deals — undoing one of the features of the authority — and much more infrastructure investment in the U.S.

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