The president was not able to look to progressive farm groups. The National Farmers Union was explicitly opposed to using a fast-track approach that would allow trade agreements to move through Congress with limited debate and no amendments.
In fact, as Obama ramped up his advocacy for a free trade strategy that progressive Americans tend to see as a threat to workers, farmers, the environment, human rights, and democracy, he acknowledged that he wasn't able to count on traditional allies to stir up grassroots support in the states. That left the president in strange company -- aligned with House members such as Ryan, and with groups that promote policies that activists say contribute to the growing gap between a wealthy few and an increasingly impoverished many.
While Obama's usual coalition partners were opposing fast track in cities and states across the country, the president got support from a group that has maintained an extensive network of political connections in states across the country and is enthusiastically on board for "the expedited conclusions and approval of the TPP."
That group is the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Unfortunately for Obama, if any group has come to represent the problem with letting corporate interest dictate policy, it's ALEC.
The corporate-funded organization that stirred considerable controversy several years ago with its advocacy on behalf of so-called "Stand Your Ground" gun laws and restrictive voter ID rules, ALEC produces so-called "model legislation" and resolutions for introduction by conservative state legislators. If corporate America is for a proposal, it's a good bet that ALEC is promoting it. And ALEC has been enthusiastically pro-fast-track.
In 2013, the ALEC board of directors approved and circulated a "Model Policy" that celebrates the TPP and declares that it "will be an impetus for further bilateral and multilateral trade agreements."
Expanding trade along lines established by the North American Free Trade Agreement and the permanent normalization of trade relations with China has always been on ALEC's agenda. The multinational corporations that cover the group's expenses, and help to define every aspect of its agenda, embrace an approach that allows them to move factories and jobs from country-to-country in order to lower wages and avoid labor, environmental and human rights regulations.
ALEC's model policy on the TPP even made respectful reference to President Obama and his administration. That's ironic, as ALEC members have been among the most ardent critics of the president's policies. Not long ago, the group published a "State Legislators Guide to Repealing Obamacare." Yet, ALEC has highlighted the Obama administration's support of the TPP "as one-part of its strategy to increase competitiveness and employment in the United States."
Over the past year, ALEC has urged state legislators who have been busy trying to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act to get their states to formally endorse the TPP. The model policy concludes:
"NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the legislature of [INSERT STATE] call(s) on Congress to support negotiations for a comprehensive, high-standard and ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that will provide a platform for regional trade and economic integration."
ALEC's International Relations Task Force, which is co-chaired by a representative from Philip Morris International, declares on its webpage that it "promotes both bilateral and multilateral free trade frameworks, initiatives and partnerships." ALEC has a long history of being at the forefront of fights to sell the trade agenda outlined in the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals backed by Democratic and Republican presidents.
Indeed, the task force that's promoting the TPP says, ALEC's international policy work is persuasive "precisely because our policy directives are backed by our public and private sector members -- American state legislators from all 50 states and some of the world's largest corporations."
That's not the right coalition for this president, for America's future.
That's not the right coalition for workers in the United States, or for workers in the countries with which the United States trades.
President Obama needs to recognize this.
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