It’s a new ball game in D.C., and this time the field could be level

Nov 13, 2006 | 02:56 PM | Rory Carroll

Shockwaves from last week's historic midterm elections are still being felt throughout Washington. The shift of power to the Democrats means a new direction on trade, energy and transportation. It's too early to say just how things will play out, but all signs point toward a showdown with the White House on issues critical to steel.

Bye-bye free trade

Like congressional Republicans, free trade also took a thumping on Election Day. Experts said trade was the key issue that pushed the Democrats over the top in Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina—places that have seen big losses in manufacturing jobs.

No fair-trade incumbent was beaten by a free trader, whereas 32 seats held by free-trade advocates in the House flipped to so-called fair traders. "This election evaporated whatever doubts remained that trade is a politically powerful issue." Lori Wallach, director of the Global Trade Watch division of nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said.

No one better captured the country's mood on trade than senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) did. He made protecting U.S. workers from outsourcing and demonizing the flood of bilateral trade agreements the cornerstone of his campaign. Post-election, he signaled that he will put the breaks on any trade deals that could give American companies an incentive to move overseas. Right now, free-trade agreements with South Korea, Peru and a host of other nations hang in the balance.

"We're going to see major trade fights in both houses and, more importantly, we're going to see a different direction in trade policy," Brown said in a press conference with leaders of the United Steelworkers union last week. "Not just a defeat of these job-killing trade agreements, like we almost defeated (the Central America Free Trade Agreement), but we're going to see real trade policy written in both houses with environmental protections and labor protections that will lift workers in our country, and in the countries we trade with, up."....

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