WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Democratic senator's complaints Tuesday, and noisy protesters, underscored the Obama administration's challenge in seeking congressional approval for enhanced powers to cut trade deals with Japan, Australia and many other countries.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said he worries that new trade deals will not help middle class incomes. He also insisted the United States do more to prevent China from keeping its currency's value artificially low, which enhances Chinese exports and dampens imports.
Schumer addressed his remarks to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who made the administration's pitch to Senate and House committees Tuesday.
Froman said Congress must return "trade promotion authority" to the White House in order to cut important trade deals with Pacific-rim nations and others. That power, sometimes called "fast-track" authority, allows presidents to send proposed trade agreements to Congress for yes or no votes, with no amendments.
Several Republican senators on the Finance Committee, including Rob Portman of Ohio, strongly backed the administration's push. Portman, who held Froman's job under President George W. Bush, said foreign markets are rapidly growing, and "our workers are getting left out." He said President Barack Obama is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to lack enhanced trade negotiating powers, which Congress enacts from time to time, usually with bipartisan votes.
But many Democrats, liberals and labor unions have grown increasingly hostile to trade deals, saying they reduce U.S. jobs.
Several anti-trade protesters interrupted Froman's opening remarks, and were ushered out by police. Some mentioned the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which many labor groups disdain.
The administration is pushing trade agreements on two tracks. Froman said his team is nearing completion of lengthy negotiations with Japan and 10 other Pacific-rim nations. But to enact that proposal — and any other major trade deal — a U.S. president must be able to send Congress a pact it can ratify or reject, but not amend, leaders of both parties say. That's why the White House's biggest goal — and its opponents' biggest target — is trade promotion authority, or TPA. It could clear the way for the Pacific-rim pact, and possibly others.
Anti-trade groups say new trade deals make it easier for foreign countries to take away U.S. jobs while abusing the environment, patent rights and, sometimes, local workers. Froman said his negotiating team is pushing India and other countries to include greater safeguards for workers and the environment as they seek new trade agreements.
China is not part of the pending Pacific-rim deal, but it figured heavily in Tuesday's debates.
Schumer said he won't support the Pacific-rim deal "if we do not at the same time enact new statutory law that includes objective criteria to define and enforce against currency manipulation" in China and elsewhere.
Froman said his team has made progress on the China currency issue, but needs to do more. He said he's pushing China on other issues too, "including protection and enforcement of trade secrets and other intellectual property rights."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, urged his colleagues to approve trade promotion authority. "Simply put, trade means jobs," Hatch said, rejecting the opponents' claims about job losses.
Several lawmakers predict the Senate will support TPA, with overwhelming support from Republicans, plus a fair number of Democrats.
Prospects in the House are less certain. A big majority of House Democrats oppose new trade deals, and some Republicans appear increasingly dubious. That's especially true among tea party Republicans, whose politics lean toward populism.
Froman was scheduled to address the House Ways and Means Committee later Tuesday.
McRAE, Ga. (AP) — Authorities have positively identified two bodies as those of a Georgia couple who disappeared after driving three hours away to buy a classic auto, and the suspect already in custody has been charged with murder and armed robbery.
Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson said 69-year-old Elrey "Bud" Runion and his 66-year-old wife, June, were shot to death and that 28-year-old Ronnie Adrian "Jay" Towns of McRae has been charged with malice murder and armed robbery.
Towns was initially charged with giving false statements and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception.
Authorities have said Bud Runion posted a Craigslist ad last week seeking a classic car and traveled to Telfair County with his wife to meet the potential seller. The two were reported missing and their SUV and bodies were found Monday.
U.S. stocks were headed for a lower close in late-afternoon trading Tuesday after Caterpillar and other big companies reported disappointing earnings and lowered earnings outlooks, raising concerns about future profit growth. The major stock indexes pared back some of their losses from earlier in the day.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down 265 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,412 as of 3:22 p.m. Eastern time. The blue-chip average dropped as much as 390 points earlier. The Standard & Poor's 500 shed 23 points, or 1.2 percent, to 2,033. The Nasdaq composite slid 74 points, or 1.6 percent, to 4,696.
THE QUOTE: "It's a confluence of things," said Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at the brokerage BTIG in New York. "You have growing nervousness about Greece, Chinese industrial profits sinking, and then came the weak reports from the global behemoths. It's a recipe for the kind of day we're having."
SECTOR VIEW: Nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 fell, with technology stocks dropping the most. Utility stocks, where investors go when they're looking for safety, were the only industry group to rise.
PC PROBLEMS: Microsoft shares tumbled a day after the company's noted in its latest quarterly results that licensing revenue for its Windows operating system fell 13 percent due in part to weak PC sales in China and Japan. Management also warned that a strong dollar will dent revenue by 4 percent in its fiscal third quarter. Microsoft shares slid $4.20, or 8.9 percent, to $42.81.
ROUGH QUARTER: Caterpillar's stock fell 7.1 percent after the heavy equipment maker was hurt in the fourth quarter by restructuring costs and issued a weak outlook. The stock shed $6.08 to $79.95.
ECONOMIC WORRIES: The Commerce Department reported that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods dropped 3.4 percent in December, dragged lower by a big decline in demand for commercial aircraft. There was also weakness in a number of areas, with demand for machinery, computer and primary metals all down. Economists had been forecasting a small increase for December.
HOUSING REPORTS: Separate reports shed light on the housing market Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index showed that U.S. home prices rose at a modest pace in November, held back by weaker sales and a limited number of available houses. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that sales of new U.S. homes accelerated 11.6 percent last month, a sign that home sales may improve after a lackluster 2014.
CURRENCY PAIN: Procter & Gamble fell 3.6 percent as the strong U.S. dollar cut into the consumer products maker's second-quarter earnings. The company said that exchange rates will remain a challenge well into fiscal 2015, especially in the second half of its year. The stock slid $3.22 to $86.37.
ABOVE THE REST: Lower fuel prices and steady demand for travel pushed American Airlines Group's earnings to a record high in the fourth quarter. CEO Doug Parker said Tuesday that 2015 is shaping up as another strong year. Even so, the company said that a key revenue figure would decline in the first quarter. That sent shares down $2.45, or 4.4 percent, to $53.
MERGER BOOST: Shares in Silicon Image vaulted 23.4 percent on news that the semiconductor maker is being acquired by rival Lattice Semiconductor for about $600 million in cash. Silicon Image rose $1.38 to $7.29. Lattice Semiconductor gained 63 cents, or 9.6 percent, to $7.23.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 77 cents to $45.92 a barrel. Oil has plunged since June, when it traded above $100, on high supplies and weak growth in demand.
BONDS: U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.82 percent from 1.83 late Monday.
ATLANTA (AP) — Google plans to bring its ultra-fast fiber optic Internet service to the city of Atlanta and eight communities in the metro area.
The company announced Tuesday that the nine Atlanta metro areas cities are part of a larger expansion in the Southeast, along with Nashville, Tennessee and Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Each community provided Google with information about utilities, permitting and other expected issues for design and construction. That process is just getting started and expected to take years.
Google Fiber Marketing Director Scott Levitan says every mile of the new network needs to be planned and will take hundreds of trucks and workers.
The metro areas chosen are: Atlanta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs and Smyrna.
MARTIN, S.C. (AP) — A train traveling through Allendale County derailed and chemicals leaked out early Tuesday after the train ended up on to a side line at a plant, authorities said.
Workers at the Archroma plant in Martin, about 12 miles northwest of Allendale on state Highway 125, were evacuated after the derailment. No one living in the rural countryside nearby was ordered to leave, authorities said.
Two people on the train heading from Augusta, Georgia, to Charleston were hurt and were taken to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, Allendale County deputies said. Their conditions were not known.
The train crashed just outside the entrance to the plant, which makes color paper and textiles. No workers were injured, Archroma U.S. spokesman Chad Perry said.
Authorities have not said what chemical leaked or whether the car that was breached was part of the through train or one of the parked cars.
The spill was still being cleaned up Tuesday afternoon.
A similar derailment happened 10 years ago this month in Graniteville, about 40 miles north of Martin. In the January 2005 wreck, a crew parking a train on a side line at a textile plant failed to flip the switch back and a train going 47 mph plowed into the parked cars, causing a chlorine leak that killed nine people.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration floated a plan Tuesday that for the first time would open up a broad swath of the Atlantic Coast to drilling, even as it moved to restrict drilling indefinitely in environmentally-sensitive areas off Alaska.
The proposal envisions auctioning areas located more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil companies no earlier than 2021, long after President Barack Obama leaves office. For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place up until 2008.
The plan also calls for leasing 10 areas in the Gulf of Mexico, long the epicenter of U.S. offshore oil production, and three off the Alaska coast.
"This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. "The areas off the table are very small in comparison to areas on the table."
The plan, which covers potential lease sales in the 2017-2022 time frame, drew immediate reaction from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called it a war on her home state, and where Northeastern Democrats objected to the proposal for the Atlantic Ocean. The proposal comes as the U.S. is in the midst of an oil boom and when oil prices, and pump prices, are at near-historic lows.
"Opening up the Atlantic coast to drill for fossil fuel is unnecessary, poses a serious threat to coastal communities throughout the region, and is the wrong approach to energy development in this country," said New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Frank Pallone, in a statement.
Interior Department officials cautioned that they were in the early stages of a multi-year process, with Jewell saying they were only "considering' a lease sale in the Atlantic and that areas could be "narrowed or taken out entirely in the future."
For Alaska, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Tuesday placing 9.8 million acres of the state's offshore resources off limits indefinitely. The memorandum withdraws from leasing parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as a shallow 30-mile shelf in northwestern Alaska called Hanna Shoal, citing their importance to Alaska natives and the sensitive environmental resources.
"There are some places that are too special to drill, and these areas certainly fit that bill," Jewell said.
Obama in early 2010 announced his intention to allow drilling 50 miles off the Virginia coast, only to scrap it after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But the administration has allowed oil and gas companies to explore for oil and gas in the Atlantic in the meantime, which is the initial step prior to drilling.
Environmental groups were quick to criticize the proposal, saying offshore drilling had not gotten safer in the years after the BP disaster. Congress, despite recommendations, has not passed any new laws to deal with the lapses identified in the wake of the spill, which was the largest offshore incident in U.S. history.
"This 5-year plan could destroy our coastal economies for decades to come, costing future generations the fishing livelihoods that have been part of their local fabric for generations," said Oceana's vice president Jacqueline Savitz.
But the oil industry applauded the move, saying much of the U.S.'s offshore potential remains untapped. Production from offshore areas accounts for 16 percent of the oil produced in the U.S. now.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America said in a statement that while the proposal is a step in the right direction, it "urges the administration to keep all offshore areas available to exploration."
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, at least four firms have filed applications with federal fisheries managers to conduct wide-scale seismic imaging surveys in the Atlantic to explore for oil and gas deposits.
The applications for "incidental harassment" of marine animals including endangered right whales are currently being reviewed by NOAA Fisheries.
The projects involve towing seismic air guns behind vessels for hundreds of miles, over months and years. The guns emit strong bursts of air and sound, which allow crews to create two-and-three-dimensional images of the seafloor.
Associated Press reporter Jason Dearen contributed reporting from Miami.