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Business, Labor Debate Pacific Trade Deal Before Senate


President Obama is making an aggressive sales pitch for a big Pacific trade agreement. He says it will create opportunities for American companies overseas. Opponents, including many Democrats, say it could cost jobs here in the U.S. The President responded today on MSNBC.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you hear foolks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is - when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.

SIEGEL: As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, Congress is trying to decide whether to grant the president fast-track authority to finalize the trade deal.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Arguments both for and against the Pacific trade deal were on full display this morning before the Senate committee weighing fast-track authority. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue led the cheering section for the deal. He says without it, American companies are handicapped doing business in the Pacific because of other countries' high trade barriers.


TOM DONOHUE: The good news is that America's trade agreements do a great job leveling the playing field, and the results include significantly higher exports and new and better jobs.

HORSLEY: Sitting right beside Donohue but a world away on trade policy was President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. Trumka says it's no surprise Donohue and the business owners he represents support trade deals.


RICHARD TRUMKA: His members have benefited by it - benefited greatly. But the average working folks in this country haven't, and we need a different deal.

HORSLEY: Trumka insists organized labor is not reflexively against any trade agreement, as President Obama has suggested. He just thinks the U.S. should drive a harder bargain for the Asia-Pacific deal, which affects 40 percent of the world's economy.


TRUMKA: The livelihoods of workers are at stake here. It's important that we get it right.

HORSLEY: Many of the Democrats on the Senate panel were sympathetic to Trumka's arguments. Democrat Bob Casey worries how a trade deal would affect the workers he represents in Pennsylvania.


SENATOR BOB CASEY: My concern here is the same concern I had about NAFTA and every other agreement since then - what it means for workers and wages. When workers are displaced by trade and they switch jobs, they suffer real wage losses between 12 and 17 percent.

HORSLEY: But Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson argues Americans should welcome economic progress overseas. He recalled visiting a company in Bangalore, India, that had grown quickly by supplying back-office support to American firms and what the owner of that company had told him.


SENATOR JOHNNY ISAKSON: When I started my business, I drove an Indian car, I banked with the Bank of India, and I drank an Indian soft drink. Today I drink Coca-Cola, I bank with Citibank, and I drive a Ford. The point being that when you do business with people, you end up doing business both ways.

HORSLEY: Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the committee, has also taken that position. Wyden helped author a bipartisan bill to grant the president fast-track authority so he can finalize the trade agreement and present it to Congress for an up-or-down vote.


SENATOR RON WYDEN: In the developing world, the middle class is going to double between now and 2025. That means there are going to be a billion middle-class consumers in the developing world, and I want them to buy our products.

HORSLEY: First though, President Obama has to persuade Congress and a skeptical American public to buy the Asia-Pacific trade deal. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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