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Delegation Splits Over Free Trade Protest

Diane Orson / Chion Wolf

The effort to oppose a new free trade agreement seems to have caused a rare split in the ranks of Connecticut's congressional delegation. Connecticut's five U.S. House members are all Democrats, and usually stand together on a wide range of issues. But a huge new free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S. and ten other Pacific nations is causing some friction between colleagues.

The Obama administration has drawn criticism for fast-tracking the talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership, and excluding Congress from the negotiations. The partnership's opponents believe it will cost American jobs, undermine consumer protections and put Internet freedoms at risk.

The AFL-CIO is among its most vocal critics. Connecticut Secretary General Lori Pelletier said, "We need to be careful with trade. We all get that it's a global economy, but at the same time, other countries are very strong in their language about, 'If you want to sell products here in our country, you've got to build them here, and we should be doing the same thing with our country.'"

Pelletier strongly endorsed an effort by the third district's Rosa DeLauro, who unconditionally opposes the fast-track process, and urges the administration to allow more Congressional oversight. DeLauro collected the signatures of 150 other Democrats on a letter to President Obama. "I think that she's spot on," said Pelletier. "She is concerned about the workers. She's concerned in particular, because she does sit on the agriculture committee, about the food that would be coming in."

While DeLauro's letter is cosigned by Elizabeth Esty and Joe Courtney, two other signatures are notably absent. John Larson and Jim Himes have cosigned their own letter, this one endorsed by just ten other House members. It also contains recommendations about what they'd like to see in the final agreement, but does not outright oppose the fast-track decision. Pelletier said, "The letters do differ a little bit. I think  Congresswoman DeLauro's letter is much stronger. But again, I'm thrilled that Congressman Larson and Himes have voiced what I see as a strong opposition to this being done in secret." 

Supporters of the free trade deal say it's a way to reduce regulation and tariffs, and will spur economic growth in all of the countries involved. But Democratic politicians will continue to feel pressure to oppose a measure that labor unions believe could see jobs leaving the U.S.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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