TIME White House

Obama Says Elizabeth Warren Is ‘Wrong’ on Trade

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference at the Washington Hilton on April 13, 2015 in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 13, 2015

After months of simmering, backroom disagreements between the White House and the liberal, populist base of the Democratic Party about the issue of free trade, President Barack Obama went on the offensive Tuesday.

In an interview with MSNBC, Obama said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and her supporters are “wrong” to think that the White House’s signature free-trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, would be bad for the American economy. The sweeping 12-nation accord, which would become the largest free-trade pact in U.S. history, would open up borders between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan and Australia, and is supported by a wide variety of business groups and most Republicans.

“I love Elizabeth,” Obama told host Chris Matthews. “We’re allies on a whole host of issues. But she’s wrong on this.”

Warren, a longtime ally of the President and a populist hero in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, has been a vocal opponent of the deal, which Congress is expected to vote on soon. Liberal groups and labor leaders have also publicly protested the deal on the grounds that it would exacerbate inequality and lead to fewer American jobs.

“U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is out there saying things like this about the trade agreement: ‘It’s going to help the rich get richer and leave everyone else behind,'” Matthews said to Obama. “She also says it challenges U.S. sovereignty.”

“They are throwing the kitchen sink at this trade agreement which will involve 11 nations and ourselves on the Pacific Rim,” he continued. “Why are they saying these things?”

“Chris, think about it,” Obama responded. “I’ve spent the last 6½ years yanking this economy out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Every single thing I’ve done from the Affordable Care Act to pushing to raise the minimum wage to making sure that young people are able to go to college and get good job training to what we’re pushing now in terms of sick pay leave … Everything I do has been focused on how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal. Now I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class.”

“And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is,” the President continued, “when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.”

The full interview will air on MSNBC’s Hardball at 7 p.m. E.T.

TIME Hillary Clinton

How Barack Obama’s Trade Deal Puts Hillary Clinton in a Bind

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.

Sen. Marco Rubio is rarely on the same side as President Obama. But the Florida Republican, who is running for president in 2016, recently drafted a letter to the White House in support of Obama’s signature free-trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress is expected to vote on this term.

This odd-bedfellows moment backs Hillary Clinton, who announced this week that she is running for President, into a particularly uncomfortable corner — sandwiched between Republicans and centrist Democrats on one side, and the Democrats’ liberal, activist base on the other.

So far, Clinton has kept quiet about whether she supports the deal.

Most Republicans, the Obama administration and a powerful coalition of business interests, some of whom have donated to Clinton’s campaign, would like to see the former Secretary of State champion the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that the sweeping, 12-nation free trade pact, the largest-ever for the United States, would been a boon for the U.S. economy.

“We stand ready to work with you to ensure quick consideration and approval of legislation to renew TPA,” Rubio wrote in the draft letter to Obama, which was obtained by TIME, in reference to the Trade Promotion Authority, the so-called fast track bill designed to facilitate the passage of the trade deal. “We must work together to ensure that goods and services created by U.S. workers are able to enter and effectively compete in overseas markets.” Rubio’s office declined to comment on the letter.

Meantime, an increasingly vociferous coalition of liberal lawmakers, labor leaders and grassroots populists, whose support Clinton will need during the primary campaign, have warned Clinton that they deeply oppose the pact, which they describe as a job-killing sweetheart deal for global corporations.

“People feel a lot of urgency and tension around this moment,” said George Goehl, the executive director the the National People’s Action, a network of progressive, grassroots organizations nationwide, in a press call Thursday morning.

“This is not a theoretical question for [Clinton] to answer,” he added. “It’s real-life right now and people want to know where she stands.”

On Wednesday night, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a potential Democratic presidential candidate who has been one of the loudest voices in Congress in opposition to the deal, rallied members of the progressive organization, Democracy For America, against the bill during a conference call. “The only way a member pays the price [for supporting TPP] is if the poeple are educated and organized,” he said, adding later that “What we have got to do is rally the American people and educate them and put pressure on vulnerable members.

“Keep the emails coming, put the pressure on,” he urged.

Clinton’s silence about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has sent both supporters and critics into spirals of speculation.

In her most recent memoir, Hard Choices, published last year, Clinton expressed limited support for the deal. “It’s safe to say that the TPP won’t be perfect,” she wrote. “No deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be — but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers.”

But during her 2007 run for the White House, she explicitly distanced herself from the last big free trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement which her husband signed in 1994, and said she would not pursue any new trade deals for a while.

After supporting NAFTA as first lady and in her 2003 memoir, Living History, Clinton said in an interview with CNN in 2007 that it “was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would, and that’s why I call for a trade timeout.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democrat who has been outspoken about his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, refused to speculate on Clinton’s position on trade. “I’m not going to go there. Hillary’s got a history. I’m pretty sure she was against fast track, against CAFTA. [She] spoke out in ’08 that we should renegotiate NAFTA,” he said Thursday. “So you make an assumption that Hillary is bad on trade but you would be wrong, I’d think.”

The Senate Finance Committee proposed a fast-track bill on Thursday afternoon that would give Obama the power to submit the trade pact to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote with no amendments. Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say such legislation is crucial as it assures other countries that Congress won’t significantly change the deal during debate.

Opponents, including Sens. Brown and Elizabeth Warren, have called the fast track undemocratic, in part because it makes it easier for negotiators and lobbyists to insert provisions into the trade deal that Congress would not approve individually.

The populist base has also railed against the non-transparent, and sometimes downright secretive, process surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation process. As of last fall, a network of 566 stakeholders, 85% of whom represented industry and trade groups, were given limited access to the draft trade agreement, according to the Washington Post. Although more stakeholders have since been invited to access the document through a secure website, the details of the agreement, which will include twelve nations in the Asia-Pacific region, have not been made public or provided to the press. Even lawmakers have not been given copies of the draft plan.

In the coming weeks, Clinton will be asked, probably repeatedly, to take a strong position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If she opposes it, she risks alienating a slew of powerful, corporate interests. But if she doesn’t, she risks the rage of the populist left. And if she does nothing, she’ll lose points with both sides and be criticized by pundits for ducking a major issue.

“It’s a choice between a corporate vision of a world economy and a vision in which … workers’ rights and sustainable development is allowed by the legal system,” Roger Hickey, the co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, said on a press call Thursday morning. “It’s a big issue.”

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

TIME Economics

The Real Reason the Dollar Is So Strong Right Now

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Purestock—Getty Images/Purestock Close-up of American dollar bills

And why it could seriously hurt American business

When is a stronger U.S. dollar not a good thing? When it causes companies to sell fewer products overseas. That’s one of the big concerns at the moment among American CEOs, many of whom are worried about what the dollar’s strength against currencies like the euro and the yen mean for US exports–and corporate profits.

They have legitimate reason to worry. Each of the five major dips in U.S. corporate profitability since 1970 have occurred following reduced sales after periods of relative dollar strength. The Fed has recently expressed concerns about whether the dollar’s strength could hold back the US recovery, which has been lackluster to begin with. Wages are still growing at only around 2 %, not enough to push up consumer spending, which is the major driver of our economy. If US exports also begin to suffer, it could be difficult for the economy to sustain the 3% a year growth figure that is needed to create more jobs.

Some economists believe the dollar’s strength reflects the fact that the U.S. is still the prettiest house on the ugly block that is the global economy. (Certainly, to employ another metaphor, it’s the strongest leg on the global stool with China slowing sharply and the Eurozone debt crisis flaring back up as Greece looks likely to run out of money next month.) But I think it’s more about central bankers and their actions. The dollar’s strength reflects the Fed’s own recent indications that it will likely raise interest rates by the end of the year.

Indeed, the dollar’s strength almost perfectly tracks Fed statements about the coming end of easy money. The tightening of US monetary policy (or even the hint that policy will tighten at some point) has driven the dollar up (and oil down) even as Europe’s beginning of its own “QE” or quantitative easing program has driven the Euro down. None of it reflects the economic reality on the ground, but rather the fact that central bankers are, as investment guru Mohamed El-Erian frequently says, the “only game in town.” For more on what the stronger dollar might mean for consumers, companies and the economy as a whole, you can listen to Josh Barro from the New York Times and I discuss the topic on this week’s Money Talking.

TIME White House

Obama Says America’s ‘Open for Business’ at Summit

U.S. President Obama waves after speaking at the SelectUSA Investment Summit
Joshua Roberts—Reuters President Barack Obama waves after speaking at the SelectUSA Investment Summit at National Harbor, Md on March 23, 2015.

President Obama was self-assured during a quick sales pitch to foreign business leaders Monday, saying he was confident that he could work with Congress to iron out trade deals and a budget plan.

“The things that help businesses grow are not partisan,” Obama said in his remarks.

Still, he and a key Cabinet member warned Republicans against blocking the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which helps foreign companies that need credit buy U.S. goods.

Obama faces partisan difficulties on both sides as he pushes ahead with the business-friendly agenda. A conservative group backed by the Koch Brothers launched a new effort Monday to block the Ex-Im Bank, arguing that it represents “cronyism and corporate welfare.”

The administration is also going head-to-head with members of the Democratic Party and typical supporters like labor unions as it irons out the plan that would free up trade between the U.S. and about a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

Some of the most outspoken critics are Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who oppose the administration’s goal of moving the trade legislation through Congress quickly because they worry it will threaten jobs and standards on food and product safety.

In an interview ahead of the President’s speech, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said it would be “terrible” if the Ex-Im Bank were to expire and argued the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is critical to the U.S. remaining competitive with Asia’s growing middle class.

“Today there are 550 million people in the middle class in Asia,” she said. “That number will be 2.7 billion in 15 years. The ability for our companies to be able to sell into the fastest-growing middle class market in the world is really critical.”

Vinai Thummalapally, the executive director of SelectUSA, told reporters that foreign investors are generally confident that the debate over the Ex-Im bank will die down eventually.

“In spite of the debate, it rarely comes up there’s this confidence that things will settle down, based on things that happened in the past.” for the most part, he added, “they’re amused, they shake their heads.”

TIME Oil

The Real (and Troubling) Reason Behind Lower Oil Prices

green-gasoline-pump
Getty Images

It isn't supply and demand, as most people believe

I am obsessed with how the top tier of finance has undermined, rather than fueled, the real economy. In part, that’s because of I’m writing a book about the topic, but also because so many market stories I come across seem to support this notion. The other day, I had lunch with Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley Investment Management and chief of macroeconomics for the bank, who posited a fascinating idea: the major fall in oil prices since this summer may be about a shift in trading, rather than a change in the fundamental supply and demand equation. Oil, he says, is now a financial asset as much as a commodity.

The conventional wisdom about the fall in oil prices has been that it’s a result of both slower demand in China, which is in the midst of a slowdown and debt crisis, but also the increase in US shale production and the unwillingness of the Saudis to stop pumping so much oil. The Saudis often cut production in periods of slowing demand, but this time around they have not. This is in part because they are quite happy to put pressure on the Iranians, their sectarian rivals who need a much higher oil price to meet their budgets, as well as the Russians, who likewise are on the wrong side of the sectarian conflict in the Middle East via their support for the Syrian regime.

Sharma rightly points out, though, that supply and demand haven’t changed enough to create a 50% plunge in prices. Meanwhile, the price decline began not on the news of slower Chinese growth or Saudi announcements about supply, but last summer when the Fed announced that it planned to stop its quantitative easing program. Sharma and many others believe this program fueled a run up in asset buying in both emerging markets and commodities markets. “Easy money had kept oil prices artificially high for much longer than fundamentals warranted, as Chinese demand and oil supply had started to turn back in 2011, and oil prices have now merely returned to their long-term average,” says Sharma. “The end of the Fed’s quantitative easing has finally pricked the oil bubble.”

If this is the case, the fact that hot money could have such an effect on such a crucial everyday resource is worrisome. And the fact that the Fed’s QE, which was designed to buoy the real economy, has instead had the unintended and perverse effect of inflating asset prices is particularly disturbing. I think that regulatory attention on the financialization of the commodities markets will undoubtedly grow; for more on how it all works, check out this New York Times story on Goldman’s control of the aluminum markets. Amazing stuff.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Ruchir Sharma. He is the head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

Read next: The U.S. Will Spend $5 Billion on Energy Research in 2015 – Where Is It Going?

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TIME Economy

What Today’s Trade-Deal Negotiators Could Learn From History

Marco Polo
Print Collector/Getty Images Marco Polo sailing from Venice in 1271. From a late 15th century illuminated manuscript in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The history of trade is one of merchants bending the rules. Governments would be wise to let them

History Today

 

 

 

This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at HistoryToday.com.

Plucky merchants, circumventing or breaking the rules, have promoted trade down the ages – governments, for the most part, have hindered it. At a time when negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are at an impasse, governments on both sides of the Atlantic should beware of repeating history. If not, they risk irrelevance.

David Abulafia, preeminent historian of maritime trade, speaks at the Legatum Institute this week about his history of the Mediterranean, The Great Sea, and his current work: a history of the oceans. Abulafia shows that from the Greco-Roman period onwards, huge quantities of goods flowed in both directions between China and the Mediterranean through the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. These goods were transported by traders who had to overcome perilous seas, pirates and, most importantly, avaricious rulers.

The Silk Road was not, contrary to popular opinion, the preeminent trade route during the medieval period: far more was transported by ship. Coins from Iraq, Afghanistan, Persia and Spain have been found in Siraf, a port on the Iranian shore of the Persian Gulf and a trading hub in the 8th century. The 9th century saw the revival of the Greco-Roman trade routes in the Red Sea: Chinese pottery has been excavated in Ayla, located on the site of Aqaba in Jordan. Moving further east 12th century accounts survive of Abraham ben Yiju, a Jewish Merchant based in Mangalore. Ben Yiju imported arsenic from the west and sent back iron, mangos and coconuts from the east.

Abulafia describes a global network, stretching from Spain, and later the Atlantic, to Japan. This network arose not by governmental dictat but through the actions of traders. In doing so some made themselves fabulously rich: a 10th century book by the Persian author Buzurg describes the life of a trader called ‘Isaac the Jew’ whose cargo was worth an estimated million dinars – an incredible amount, given that a middle class family could have subsisted on 24 dinars per annum.

That is not to say that governments did not play their part in promoting trade. But their actions often hindered rather than helped. Trade, then as now, was seen as a source of revenue in many countries. Aden flourished as a point of exchange on the Indian Ocean. Customs officers there extracted tribute or taxes at the government checkpoint, taxes which were attractive enough to tempt the Persian Kish who attacked Aden in 1135. The many checkpoints that goods had to travel through inflated prices – spices were not so rare or the journey so arduous – yet consumers in Europe paid a high price. A lot of which lined the pockets of rulers.

Those who resisted, the forbears of modern free-traders, could find themselves in hot water. Isaac the Jew came to a nasty end after refusing the pay the rajah of ‘Serboza’ (assumed to be the Kingdom of Sri Vijaya) 20,000 dinars for passing through his territory.

When governments weren’t taxing trade they were often disrupting it in other ways. In the 1180s the crusader lord Reynaud de Châtillon launched an attack on Mecca and on the traffic passing through the Red Sea. The result, after Reynauld’s failure, was the closure of the Red Sea to non-Muslims.

This is not to suggest that merchants were all saints preyed upon by dastardly rulers. As the Ottomans took over more territory in the eastern Mediterranean in the 15th and 16th centuries European merchants looked for other markets to obtain sugar. The result was an expansion of economic activity in the newly discovered Atlantic islands. With a little help from Christopher Columbus, a Genoese merchant, this would eventually lead to the Caribbean sugar trade and the slave trade.

This brings us back to the TTIP. History, both ancient and more recent, tells us that economic activity usually finds a way: whether its money-lenders finding loopholes in the usury laws in the 12th century or investment bankers engaged in off-balance sheet transactions in the 21st. The challenge for governments is to prevent the more egregious forms of commercial activity without throttling enterprise altogether. The history of maritime trade in the Medieval period shows that rulers usually fail to achieve both objectives – hopefully today’s leaders will not make the same mistake.

Stephen Clarke is a Research Analyst at the Legatum Institute, London.

The Legatum Institute is currently running the History of Capitalism Programme, a series of lectures which explores the origins and development of a movement of thought and endeavour which has transformed the human condition.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Here’s the One State of the Union Talking Point Republicans Liked

A debate over the next round of global trade deals is heating up in Congress this year

About a half-hour into President Obama’s State of the Union a strange thing happened: most of the Republicans jumped up and cheered while most Democrats stayed seated and silent. It was the only time it happened Tuesday night, and the topic was trade.

“China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region,” said Obama. “That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why should we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.”

“I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” added Obama, who earned a brief cheer from democratic socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders before continuing. “But 95% of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

There are few areas of agreement between Obama and the new Republican Congress, but trade promotion authority, or TPA, which would ease the passage of the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, potentially the largest free trade agreement ever, is one of them. For years the Administration has been negotiating TPP—affecting about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade—but so far Obama has yet to prove to Republicans that he is willing to spend the time, effort and political capital to get it done. But on Tuesday night, the Republicans’ response to his message was ecstatic.

The Republican Senate and House whips, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, said that the trade talk was “probably one of the brightest spots” and “the most promising part” of the speech. Other top Republicans who criticize Obama around the clock, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they hoped the President would now push the issue. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, the most senior member, said Obama’s remarks were “welcome but long overdue.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton led an all-out push to get the massive North America trade deal through Congress. There were face-to-face White House meetings with Congressmen, White House envoys roaming the Hill, and 37 Commerce Department reports targeting industries “from computers to autos,” according to a Christian Science Monitor report, that helped show Congressmen how NAFTA would help their constituents. In October of that year, former CEO of the Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca, stood on the White House South Lawn with hundreds of products (and businessmen) touting what the Administration believed would thrive under NAFTA. Under the white tents, Clinton joked to a pro-trade union man that he would wear the man’s company hat if he gave a speech. A month later, the House passed the bill in a squeaker and the Senate did shortly thereafter.

This time around, Republicans are hoping for another all-out Administration effort on TPP and the “fast-track” bill, which would allow limited congressional debate, no amendments, and an up-or-down vote. The Administration says such a bill is vital to pass TPP, as countries would be less willing to negotiate if they knew Congress could make large changes to the deal. But liberals are livid with Obama’s trade talk; they set up a press conference Wednesday to air out their concerns.

“The typical business plan in this country because of trade and tax policies: You shut down production in Cleveland and you move it to Beijing and sell the products back to the United States,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown after the State of the Union. “That makes no sense. And he’s wrong on that as his predecessors were.”

“If you think that previous trade agreements. . . have done well, you should support the TPP,” said Sanders. “But if you believe, as I do, that they have been disastrous, that they have cost us millions of decent paying jobs, then it make no sense to go forward in a failed policy and it should be defeated. . . . At the end of the day, among many other concerns, American workers are going to be forced to compete against people in Vietnam who make a minimum wage of 56 cents an hour.”

Still pro-trade lawmakers like Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill believe that Obama can bring “enough” Democrats to pass a “fast-track” trade bill. Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 but opposed the more recent trade agreement bills with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, said Obama “probably” has the votes now to pass a TPA bill through Congress, although it’s easier in the Senate than House, where some conservatives have also raised an uproar about giving more power to the President.

The White House has recently increased its outreach efforts, tasking every Cabinet member to divvy up and target 80 House Democrats, according to the Hill newspaper. In an email Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told TIME that the trade agenda is a “top priority” for the Administration. “We are taking an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to getting this done,” she said. “We are all out talking not only to members of Congress but to business leaders and workers around the country, telling the story of why trade and exports matter.”

The United State Trade Representative office touts that over nearly five years it has held over 1,600 congressional briefings on TPP. United States Trade Ambassador Michael Froman rebutted liberals’ concerns in a press conference on Wednesday, saying that manufacturing jobs are coming back from overseas and that export-related jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than other jobs. “It gives us the opportunity to protect workers, protect the environment and level the playing field,” said Froman of TPP.

Still, Obama has a ways to go in getting broad support for both TPA and TPP. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership and Finance Committee, says “many of us wouldn’t support” TPA unless it addressed some China-related concerns. And the top Democrat on the influential Ways and Means Committee, Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin, says the Administration, Congress and outside groups need to immediately “tear apart” other outstanding issues, including those related to the environment and currency manipulation.

“I think it’s a mistake essentially to say let’s fast-track a package when there isn’t a real understanding of the issues and their resolution,” he said. “So that should be the focus right now and that will be the strong basis for getting bipartisan support. If we don’t do that, I don’t think there’s a chance that there will be bipartisan support.”

TIME Congress

Why Republicans Want to Give President Obama More Power

Barack Obama John Boehner
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama (R) talks with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a meeting with the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 9, 2014.

The politics of passing the largest trade agreement ever—further tying the economies of 12 countries nested on the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than the Earth’s landmass—is complex, to say the least.

But House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, a pivotal figure on trade in his new perch, appears optimistic that Congress can pass a major bill that would give President Obama greater authority to negotiate an agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would affect about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade. That is, as long as Obama does his part, of course.

“This is an area we can find common ground with the President, but we need the President to engage,” said Ryan, still sporting his hunting beard at the GOP joint Senate-House retreat, a first for the party in 10 years. “We need the president to engage on this issue with his own party. We need him to make it a priority in the State of the Union. We need him to work with his party to help get votes.”

Ryan’s statement, echoed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, underlines the difficulties in getting a deal sought by Obama for years. Granting “fast-track” authority, which would allow limited congressional debate, no amendments and an up-or-down vote, poses political perils across the aisle. Liberals, backed by labor unions like AFL-CIO, have raised concerns that TPP will exacerbate income inequality and have already begun planning how they could slow down the process in the Senate. Last month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed concern that TPP could increase U.S. access to risky financial products and take away regulators’ tools over foreign banks “to prevent the next crisis.”

And even though a new Republican-controlled Senate increases the number of pro-trade congressmen, conservatives have been furious with Obama’s executive actions—voting in the House on Wednesday to claw back years of his immigration decrees—and will be hard pressed to grant the Administration the leverage it needs to negotiate. Ryan points out that the Republican party, however, is largely pro-trade.

“By and large the vast majority of our members are in favor of getting these kinds of trade agreements because they know it’s good for business,” said Ryan. “The question that obviously you hear about is should we give this president TPA? TPA is asserting congressional prerogatives early in the process. So it’s a good thing no matter who the president is … and to make sure we get the best deal.”

Still, there is already sniping that the other party could tank the deal before congressional leaders even announce a goal of a timeline of when they would like to pass TPA.

“The one thing we have found time and time again is where are the 50 Democrats,” asked McCarthy, before noting that last year Obama urged Congress for a trade bill in his State of the Union address and then didn’t talk about it a day latter in a private meeting with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “The President has to lean in,” said McCarthy.

Some Democrats have said privately that it may be conservatives who tank the trade efforts.

“I think Republicans are going to confront the reality that doing TPA now goes against their central complaint about giving more authority to the president of the United States,” says a House Democratic aide. “They’ve been criticizing the president for months—if not longer—that he’s the emperor-in-chief. And yet they’re going to grant him basically complete authority to put a trade agreement in front of Congress and get an up-and-down vote? The closer this gets to that happening, the more their inexperienced members become familiar with the topic, they’re going to confront challenges in the party.”

If Congress doesn’t pass a trade-promotion authority bill, other countries will be more hesitant to engage in commitments with the U.S. since Congress could amend the deal. But members of Congress have a number of trade concerns spanning labor, environmental and intellectual property issues. In 2013, 60 senators and 230 representatives urged the Administration to address currency manipulation and exchange rate policies that they said could increase the trade deficit and kill jobs.

But Republican leaders at a retreat in Hershey, Pa.—“The Sweetest Place on Earth”—seem willing to work to overcome those obstacles.

MONEY Shopping

How to Get Cash for Your Unwanted Gift Cards

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Tom Hahn—Getty Images

Fortunately, you aren't stuck with that gift card to your great-aunt's favorite store. Here's how you can dump it for something you actually want this holiday.

Now that Christmas has passed and the piles of wrapping and ribbons are cleared, you have a good view of the duds in your holiday haul.

For items like that hideous sweater from your cousin, see our guide to returning and exchanging gifts. But if the unwanted present is a little rectangle of plastic redeemable at a store you’ve never heard of or would never willingly wander into, it may seem like you’re stuck with it—or whatever item you find least offensive in that shop.

That’s if you use it at all. This year alone, American consumers will leave more than $1 billion in store credit unused, according to CEB TowerGroup, which tracks gift card trends. Rather than leave that card to languish in your wallet, consider these options for swapping it for something you do want.

Trade It In

There are a number of websites that let you get cash back for your card or swap for another you’re more likely to use, but don’t expect to recoup the full value. These vendors will take a small percentage, meaning you’ll pay a price for your swap.

To make sure you get the most for any trade, try giftcardgranny.com. This online gift card aggregator lets you select the merchant of your card and then easily compare offers from 15 reseller sites, including cardpool.com and giftcards.com, to figure out who will offer you back the highest percentage of your card’s value. Since each gift card reseller uses different fees and payment methods, it’s worthwhile to do this check first and then go to the site offering the most for your unwanted plastic.

Not included in this price comparision site is a new offer from Walmart that’s good if you have a lot of love for the big-box retailer. Walmart will trade store credit for gift cards from more than 200 different retailers, restaurants, and airlines through its own online exchange website, Walmart.CardCash.com. Certain merchant cards will get you up to 95% of the original card’s value, or about 3% more than most reseller websites, which usually top out at 92% of a card’s face value. Others will get you 85% back, and some as little as 70%.

Sell It

If you don’t want to make your swap online, you can visit certain Coinstar kiosks (yes, those same machines you dump a year’s worth of spare change into). These yellow boxes accept gift cards from more than 150 retailers and restaurants, as long as they have a balance of at least $20. It will make you an offer for the card, and, if you accept, will provide you with a voucher you can then redeem for cash at the register of the shop the kiosk is located in.

If you don’t want to have the value of your card dictated by a reseller, use raise.com. Through this site, you can set your own price for the gift card in a marketplace similar to eBay, without the bidding. You can list any e-card for free on the site and a physical gift card for $1, but when you sell it, the company will take a 15% cut, meaning that even if you sell it for full value you can still end up recouping the same or less than a site that pays a lower percentage outright, plus you won’t have to wait as long to get money back.

Donate It

If you’d rather keep another service from profiting off your gift card or don’t find the exchange worthwhile, contact your favorite charity organization and ask if they accept donated gift cards. You could also use a site like Gift Card Giver, which distributes donated gift cards to certain approved nonprofit organizations. Giving the card away could lower your tax bill and extend that holiday generosity even more.

Who do you side with in the Great Gift Card Debate?
Why gift cards are the only present that makes sense
Why gift cards are a crime against Christmas

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