By  on September 25, 2007

WASHINGTON — Three House Democrats took a defiant stance against their own leadership Monday over advancing a free trade deal with Peru and three other pending trade accords.

Reps. Michael Michaud (D., Maine), Phil Hare (D., Ill.) and Betty Sutton (D., Ohio), members of the House Trade Working Group comprising 20 Democrats who support reforming trade policies, told reporters in a conference call that they oppose trade deals with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

The House members expressed frustration over the Peru deal in particular because the Democratic Caucus has not held a meeting on it. The House Ways and Means Committee is slated to vote on it today.

Many of the 42 House Democratic freshmen elected last year campaigned against continuing the same trade policy promulgated by the Bush administration, which they said has had a devastating impact on manufacturers in their districts.

The freshmen Democrats are becoming more vocal against approving new trade deals until legislation is passed dealing with countries, notably China, that manipulate their currency and hurt U.S. companies by subsidizing exports. A group of seven Democrats sent a letter last week to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, requesting a full caucus meeting on Peru.

"I think we have a lot of support [in opposing the Peru trade deal], and probably more than people think," Hare said.

Hare said he is pressing for a caucus hearing on the pending trade deals, as well as changes to mitigate the impact of duty free imports on U.S. companies and workers.

"I can't go back to my district in good conscience [after campaigning for trade reform] and tell somebody who lost a job that I hope they will understand, because people won't understand or support it," Hare said.

Michaud said leaders such as Ways and Means chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) should focus on trade issues that "unite" the party.

"Currency manipulation is an issue that unites the Democratic Caucus," said Michaud, noting it also has a lot of Republican support. "That's why I can't believe they are not dealing with that issue first versus a very divisive issue that will split the Democratic Caucus."Sutton, who is also a freshman elected in a district hit hard by trade, agreed that House leaders should take up currency and illegal subsidies first.

"Fixing those kinds of problems and shoring up our trading system is necessary to making anything work," Sutton said.

Rangel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and top House Republicans reached an agreement with the Bush administration in May to strengthen labor and environmental standards in future trade agreements, seemingly paving the way for Congressional consideration of the four pending trade deals. But Pelosi and others withdrew support a few weeks later, under pressure from organized labor, for the trade deals with Colombia and South Korea.

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