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AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce clash over trade before Senate

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, right, walks into a hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, center, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.

WASHINGTON — Major labor unions and business groups clashed Tuesday over President Barack Obama’s bid for “fast track” authority to advance trade deals being negotiated with numerous nations.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee that the fast track legislation would rob Congress of a meaningful role in shaping trade deals.

Fast track authority lets Congress reject or endorse — but not amend — proposed trade deals backed by the president.

“The idea that fast track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is an absolute fiction,” Trumka said, referring to the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Obama is likely to send Congress the Pacific-rim proposal if he wins fast track approval. Trade deals with European nations and others could follow.

Trumka said the Pacific-rim deal “has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete. Congress cannot set meaningful negotiating objectives in a fast track bill if the administration has already negotiated most of the key provisions.

But Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said fast-track authority is crucial to ratifying deals that would help U.S. producers reach big foreign markets.

Without fast track, Donohue said, “the United States is relegated to the sidelines as other nations negotiate trade agreements without us_putting American workers, farmers, and companies at a competitive disadvantage.”

Most congressional Democrats oppose fast track, and the Obama administration is scrambling for as much support as possible.

The Senate could vote fairly soon on the fast track bill. Leaders of the Republican-controlled House leaders could follow suit if they think they have the votes to pass it.

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