WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Casey yesterday joined a group of fellow senators in calling for Congress to obtain the power to terminate all future free-trade agreements that don't meet benchmarks for creating American jobs, improving U.S. wages and opening foreign markets to American products.
The Pennsylvania Democrat's action comes one week after congressional Democratic leaders reached a settlement with the Bush administration on including higher labor and environmental standards in pending trade deals with Panama and Peru. The administration also will make changes to deals with Colombia and South Korea.
But Mr. Casey said promises of better standards aren't enough. "I'd like to believe the president and this administration when they say at long last, 'We're really going to do the job this time. We're really going to enforce the law,' " he said. "But they have a terrible track record of enforcement. So any agreement that's hammered out in this building with the administration has to be one with very tough enforcement."
Under a proposal from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Congress could revisit trade deals after a five-year period. If the U.S. side hasn't seen measurable benefits, lawmakers could end the deal.
Mr. Dorgan, a frequent critic of the White House's trade policies, pointed to skyrocketing trade deficits between the United States and the rest of the world. From 1991 to 2006, the deficit jumped from $77 billion to $836 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"This is a deep sea of red ink, growing worse year after year," Mr. Dorgan said. "We're going to have to repay this with a lower standard of living in this country. And we need to fix it."
Gretchen Hamel, spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said U.S. exports to free-trade countries are growing twice as fast as exports to other countries. In an e-mail message, she called the administration's record on enforcement "excellent."
During yesterday's news conference, Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Casey stood alongside Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who both represent large manufacturing states where the shifting global economy has caused pain for many workers.
Pennsylvania has lost 190,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, Mr. Casey said. "Over many years, we've had the devastating effects of bad trade policies and a changing economy," he said.
Mr. Brown argued that the Bush administration had done little to fulfill the labor standards of an agreement with Jordan, where, he said, guest workers often face dismal working conditions.
Ms. Stabenow said South Korea had been reluctant to open its markets to U.S.-made automobiles.
Free trade has long been a divisive issue for Democrats, and Mr. Dorgan acknowledged that there is a split within the party as Congress considers a new round of agreements with other countries. But he said he wants his concerns to be a part of the debate.
"We believe in trade," he said. "But we believe in fair trade."