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O’Malley speaks out against trade deal, supports $15 minimum wage

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. (Bruce Smith/AP)

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley spoke out against a major trade pact sought by President Obama and voiced support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour as he appeared Thursday at Harvard University.

O’Malley, who has been positioning himself for a Democratic presidential bid, denounced the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a “bad trade deal” during a speech at Harvard's Institute of Politics in which he outlined his economic priorities for the country.

“Chasing cheaper labor abroad will not help us build a stronger economy at home,” O’Malley said during the address, which was live-streamed over the Internet. O'Malley said the deal would “hurt middle-class wages and ship middle-class jobs overseas.”

Obama has touted the 12-nation trade and regulatory deal as a cornerstone of his second-term agenda, but it has drawn the opposition of many fellow Democrats, including labor leaders, who argue the chief beneficiary will be large multinational corporations.

[Obama’s Asia trade proposal may not go over so well with Democrats]

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, supported the deal as secretary of state, but she has not taken a position on it as a candidate. In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton said the deal would “link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment and intellectual property.”

On Thursday, bipartisan legislation was presented in the Senate that would allow Obama to seek “fast-track” approval of the deal from Congress, an up-or-down vote without the possibility of amendments from lawmakers.

“We certainly shouldn’t be fast-tracking failed deals,” O’Malley told an audience largely made up of students.

In response to a question from an audience member following the speech, O'Malley said he could support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour -- more than twice the current federal rate. He noted legislation passed in Maryland during his tenure that will raise the state's rate to $10.10 an hour by 2018, calling that "the furthest I could push it and still get the consensus to get it done."

But O'Malley predicted that several large metro areas across the country would move toward $15 an hour -- there's a push underway in the District -- and said that it would be good for the economy.

"It's going to fuel economic growth, greater consumer demand," he said.

The appearance at Harvard came as O’Malley tries to establish himself as a more progressive, more forward-looking alternative to Clinton, who formally launched her bid for the Democratic nomination on Sunday. He is among several Democrats seeking to emerge as Clinton’s chief rival.

In his remarks, O’Malley -- who plans to make a decision about a White House bid next month -- decried the “trickle-down economics” that he said have led to an untenable situation.

"As we gather here tonight, wealth and economic power in the United States of America have now been concentrated in the hands of the very few as almost never before in the history of our country,” O’Malley said, lamenting that "the vast majority of us are working harder but we’re watching our families slipping further behind."

He offered an array of prescriptions -- including expanding Social Security benefits and allowing college graduates to refinance loans -- that have been sprinkled throughout his speeches during recent travels to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early presidential nominating states.

In his speech, O’Malley also called immigration reform “an economic imperative for our entire country” and called for stepped-up policing of Wall Street, echoing the rhetoric of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading critic of the excesses of the financial sector.

“Not a single Wall Street executive was convicted of a crime related to the 2008 economic meltdown,” O’Malley said. “Not a single one. Explain to me how it is that you can get pulled over for a broken tail light in our country, but if you wreck the world’s economy you’re somehow untouchable? I don’t get that.”

Staff writers Anne Gearan and David Nakamura contributed to this report.