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Trade Deal Faces Initial Skepticism In Congress

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 5/10/2015 Mollie Reilly
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A sweeping trade deal reached by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries on Monday after years of negotiations was met with some skepticism in Washington, setting up an election-year battle over whether to approve the agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which would set common trade standards and break down trade barriers between the 12 countries, marks a tentative victory for President Barack Obama, who has made the agreement a critical part of his economic agenda. 

But the agreement must first be ratified by Congress, where the deal is already facing harsh criticism. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called the deal "disastrous" in a statement released soon after news of the agreement broke, vowing to defeat it on the Senate floor. 

"Wall Street and other big corporations have won again," Sanders said. "It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who co-sponsored legislation earlier this year to give Obama fast-track authority to expedite trade negotiations, were hesitant to praise the agreement. 

Hatch, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, expressed concern that the deal squanders a "historic opportunity to break down trade barriers for American-made products with a trade block representing 40 percent of the global economy."

"Closing a deal is an achievement for our nation only if it works for the American people and can pass Congress by meeting the high-standard objectives laid out in bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority," he said in a statement. "While the details are still emerging, unfortunately I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short."

Meanwhile, Ryan said he is "reserving judgment" on the deal until he can further review the agreement. 

"I want to explore concerns surrounding the most recent aspects of the agreement," said Ryan, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. "The administration must clearly explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families." 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-sponsored the fast-track bill and is the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Finance, praised the agreement for some of its provisions, including requiring countries like Malaysia and Vietnam to comply with labor standards, but stopped short of a full endorsement.

"As I have said in the past, a good Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could present important new opportunities for Oregon workers, farmers and manufacturers, and raise the bar for labor rights and environmental protections overseas," he said. "It's now time for Congress and the public to examine the details of the TPP and assess whether it will advance the nation's interests."

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on House Ways and Means, also praised negotiators for making progress on labor standards and tobacco regulation. However, Levin warned, the deal does not appear to go far enough on currency manipulation or Mexico's labor practices.

"The most important objective is to get the strongest agreement that benefits American workers and the U.S. economy for generations," Levin said. "The role of Congress now is as important as ever."

Read more on the Trans-Pacific Partnership here.

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