Lori Wallach of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch said she has been staying in touch with tea party activists who are concerned about free-trade agreements.
Some tea party organizations have been quietly trading notes with left-leaning advocacy groups as both sides work to derail a series of upcoming free-trade agreements.
Together, they hope to deliver what one opponent of the deals described as a “one-two punch” to proposed trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. As liberal groups and labor unions lobby Democrats, tea party members have been calling the Republican freshmen they helped elect.
Some tea party groups have a protectionist slant, opposing pacts that might increase competition faced by U.S. producers, but other groups oppose trade deals because they oppose “big government.” For this faction, free trade should simply be freedom to trade with anyone, instead of a detailed treaty written by governments.
Those concerns differ from labor rights issues and offshoring concerns raised by labor unions and liberals, but Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach said many of the arguments are “different sides of the same issue.”
“I’ve certainly talked to them. We’re not working with them, but I have called them at different times to ask how it’s going,” said Wallach, who is director of the left-leaning group’s Global Trade Watch.
The alliance is less surprising when viewed in light of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from last fall that found a majority of Americans believe free-trade agreements have hurt the U.S. In that poll, 90 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats agreed that outsourcing is a reason the domestic economy is struggling and people are not being hired.
Coordination between liberal and conservative advocates could be the opposition’s best hope to overcome a strong bloc of support for the trade agreements. Top Republican leaders including Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) have urged the president to deliver these deals, and the White House strongly favors the deals.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and Heritage Action — the advocacy wing of the conservative Heritage Foundation — are all pushing for passage.
Even FreedomWorks, which works closely with the tea party movement, has argued, “Protectionism only robs Americans of their income and their freedom of choice. The cost of trade tariffs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”
Some tea party members agree. Ryan Hecker — who helped devise the tea party’s policy platform, dubbed the Contract From America — said he is “100 percent for free trade and for anything that opens up trade barriers.”
Kathryn Serkes, a tea party activist whose Americans for Free & Fair Trade has been reaching out to sympathetic lawmakers and local tea party groups, said she is also for free trade, but that these agreements are anything but.