Obama’s trade agenda faces tougher odds heading into House

May 31, 2015, 9:12 AM
FILE – In this May 26, 2015 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of t...
FILE - In this May 26, 2015 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. For all the near-death moments his trade agenda overcame in the Senate, President Barack Obama's effort to cap his presidency with a major international commerce deal faces its biggest hurdle - and perhaps its graveyard - in the more polarized House of Representatives. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — After several near death experiences in the Senate, the trade agenda that President Barack Obama is pushing as a second term capstone faces its biggest hurdle yet in the more polarized House.

Anti-trade forces have struggled to ignite public outrage over Obama’s bid to enact new free-trade agreements, but Democratic opposition in Congress remains widespread.

The outcome may turn on Republicans’ willingness to hand the president a major win in his final years in office. Underscoring the difficulties, House leaders are looking at the second or third week of June to schedule a vote, even though House members return from recess on Monday.

“The business of bill passing is a messy, sausage-making process. It was in the Senate, and it certainly will be in the House,” White House communications director Jen Psaki said in an interview. “There will be many moments where there will be difficult issues. We have our eyes wide open with that.”

At issue is legislation that would give Obama parameters for the trade deals he negotiates but also speed up congressional review of the final agreements by giving lawmakers the right to approve or reject deals, but not change them.

Obama is seeking this “fast track” authority to complete a 12-nation Trans-Pacific trade deal that spans the Pacific rim from Chile to Vietnam. He and trade backers say it will open huge markets to U.S. goods by lowering tariffs and other trade barriers. Critics, labor and environmental groups in particular, argue that new trade agreements will cost jobs and that past agreements have not lived up to labor and environmental standards.

Supporters and opponents of fast track count about 20 House Democrats in favor with fewer than a dozen still on the fence. Proponents of the bill say they need at least 25 Democrats and preferably closer to 30 to counter the 40 to 50 Republicans who are expected to vote against it in the GOP-controlled House.

The fast-track legislation squeezed through the Senate, coupled with a package of federal assistance for workers displaced by free trade agreements that helped secure Democratic votes. That aid measure, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, has emerged as a particularly tricky component because it’s a priority for Democrats, but many Republicans oppose it and insist on publicly voting against it.

One House leadership option is to “divide the question” on the Senate-passed bill. That would allow separate votes on fast-track and TAA.

Presumably an overwhelming number of Republicans, and just enough Democrats, would vote for fast-track. And TAA would pass with heavy Democratic support and enough help from Republicans. That would ultimately leave the Senate bill intact and clear the way for Obama’s signature.

Some Democrats, however, have raised the possibility of voting heavily against TAA to sabotage their main target, fast track. And many are unhappy that the assistance package would be partly funded by cuts in Medicare’s growth.

“There’s a lot of unease in the Democratic caucus — and explicit opposition — to Congress paying for trade adjustment assistance with Medicare savings,” Bill Samuel, the legislative director for the AFL-CIO, said in an interview. “If Republicans are counting on Democrats to put it over the top, they may not be right about that.”

If the trade assistance measure survives, the fast-track measure would still be in jeopardy.

“There’s overwhelming opposition in the Democratic caucus,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a leading opponent of Obama’s trade bill, said in an interview. GOP leaders “are in a bind,” she said. “If they had the votes, they’d be moving.”

DeLauro said “dividing the question” is only one of several options House leaders are considering. “Every option leads to more problems,” she said, “because this is a bad bill.”

At the White House, officials say Obama might rely less on the public speeches and high-profile interviews that characterized the drive toward the Senate vote and focus more on targeted lobbying to retain Democratic supporters and win over any remaining fence sitters.

The White House has been especially impressed by the efforts of House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who has worked to persuade conservatives who are reluctant to give a Democratic president fast track authority. Ryan has written opinion pieces with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a darling of the conservative movement, in support of trade and has courted other conservative leaders to back fast track.

On the Democratic side, labor has made opposition to trade a priority, and the AFL-CIO has frozen its political action committee contributions to lawmakers until after the trade votes. During the Memorial Day congressional recess, a coalition of fast track opponents aired ads in 17 Democratic congressional districts criticizing the legislation and calling for its defeat.

But those efforts are running up against a more muddled public view of trade. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 58 percent of those surveyed, including a majority of Democrats, say free trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Moreover, when Pew asked Americans to list their top priorities for the president and Congress this year, global trade ranked 23rd.

“The people who don’t normally pay attention to campaigns probably aren’t going to be showing up to vote on this,” Jason Stanford of the Coalition to Stop Fast Track conceded. “But what is important for these members to note is that the same people who were knocking on doors for them last time are opposing this now. They are turning that important base of support into a really dedicated opposition. And that’s not how anyone wants to run for re-election.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Business

Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San Francisc...
Associated Press

Elon Musk’s mysterious ways on display in Tesla tweet trial

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Elon Musk’s enigmatic personality and unconventional tactics are emerging as key exhibits in a trial revolving around one of his most polarizing pursuits — tweeting. The trial, centered on a pair of tweets announcing Musk had obtained the money to take Tesla private in 2018, reeled the 51-year-old billionaire into a […]
15 hours ago
FILE - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses during a break in the taping of an interview ...
Associated Press

Biden, McCarthy to discuss debt limit in talks on Wednesday

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he is looking forward to discussing with President Joe Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling ” when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since McCarthy was elected to the post. McCarthy, R-Calif., said […]
15 hours ago
Qatar's Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, right, shakes hands with Lebane...
Associated Press

Qatar replaces Russian company in Lebanon gas exploration

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon, two international oil giants and state-owned oil and gas company Qatar Energy signed an agreement Sunday that the Qatari firm will join a consortium that will search for gas in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon’s coast. The deal inked in Beirut brings Qatar into Lebanon’s gas exploration market three months after […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

France must raise pension age to 64, prime minister says

PARIS (AP) — France’s prime minister insisted Sunday that the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 is “no longer negotiable,” further angering parliamentary opponents and unions who plan new mass protests and disruptive strikes this week. Raising the pension age is one part of a broad bill that is the […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Australia mining company sorry for losing radioactive device

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A mining corporation on Sunday apologized for losing a highly radioactive capsule over a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) stretch of Western Australia, as authorities combed parts of the road looking for the tiny but dangerous substance. The capsule was part of a device believed to have fallen off a truck while being transported […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Iran reports drone attack on defense facility

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s Defense Ministry says one of its factories was attacked by drones in the central city of Isfahan. A statement carried by the state-run IRNA news agency says the attack occurred late Saturday and caused minor damage to a rooftop. The report says three drones were shot down by […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Obama’s trade agenda faces tougher odds heading into House