The U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a new website Wednesday as part of its jobs-focused campaign to win Congressional approval for three long-stalled trade pacts. But the pro-trade, big-business lobby isn’t the only organization speaking up on the issue this week.
The AFL-CIO opposes the pending free-trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama and will hold a news conference with lawmakers Thursday to highlight what it calls ongoing violence against Colombian trade unionists. Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) are planning to join AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Colombian trade unionists at the Capitol Triangle. The unions are also running ads, including some in Roll Call.
But at the chamber’s event to announce its new website and intensified lobbying effort, President and CEO Tom Donohue said the business community is confident it can help push the trio of agreements through Congress.
“We can’t afford to delay any longer,” he said. Without the free-trade agreements, American workers and businesses will be “competing with one hand tied behind their back” as other countries implement their own pacts, costing the United States hundreds of thousands of jobs, he said.
Donohue said he hopes the unions opposing the pacts will celebrate the jobs that the chamber believes will be created under the deals. “God bless them,” he said.
The chamber has pressed Republican freshmen, many of whom expressed strong reservations about the trade deals on the campaign trail, and has hosted more than 70 events in their Congressional districts to gin up support. The freshmen are most concerned about creating and keeping jobs in their districts, Donohue said, and are getting behind the FTAs.
“We’ve been up on the Hill,” the chamber president said. “It’s hitting a crescendo.”
Donohue said he and his team have also worked closely with the Obama administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “I talk to Bill Daley a lot,” Donohue noted, referring to the White House chief of staff.
While Donohue discussed the chamber’s Congressional and grass-roots lobbying efforts, his chief focus was on his group’s new website, TradeSupportsJobs.com. The site breaks down exports by state or Congressional district, complete with charts and graphics to show the jobs those exporters support. The data come from the Commerce Department’s foreign trade office, the chamber said.
The chamber’s website and its district-by-district data offer Members a potential fundraising tool, according to Donohue. “They look at this stuff and say, ‘I never get any money from those guys,’” Donohue said. He added that some of the information has already been used in lobbying visits, but the website is new and will be an asset during lobbying meetings in the House or Senate.
But Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, which opposes the three agreements, called the chamber data “lopsided paid research” that doesn’t give the full picture of the trade agreements’ effect on American jobs.
“Their data is like looking at your deposits in your bank accounts without looking at the withdrawals,” she said. “People on the Hill who are undecided on the trade agreements, or are skeptical, just laugh when the chamber puts out a new iteration of that data. Gross exports are not relevant.”
The chamber’s data provide “cover” to Members of Congress who already want to support the pacts, according to Wallach.
No matter how far apart they are on the pacts, both sides agree that jobs will be a dominant theme in next year’s elections.
“For the Democrats who have working people as their base and the tea party Republicans, if in fact the chamber convinces them and they use the chamber’s cooked-up numbers to vote for an agreement, the real question is what’s going to happen to them in 2012,” Wallach said.
In particular, the freshmen who campaigned against North American Free Trade Agreement-style pacts, may have an electoral challenge ahead, she said. “Now they’ve come to Washington and the usual corporate lobby has sidled up to them. ... It’s going to be a big X factor for the 2012 elections, when they have to go home and admit they’ve just voted for Wall Street over Main Street.”
But Donohue said he has a message for the Members who may be poised to take a risky trade vote: “We are going to be there with you.”
In the past, the chamber has spent big money on campaign ads, in part to thank Members for their votes on other top business priorities.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.