Crunch time for Obama trade agenda

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 3, 2015 - It's crunch time for President Obama's trade agenda in the House as votes loom on the Trade Promotion Authority. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has pledged to bring up the fast-track trade bill in the House sometime this month. He wouldn't specify what week the Trade Promotion Authority bill (HR 1890) would be on the floor although it's possible the debate could occur as soon as next week.

McCarthy, R-Calif., all but conceded that the leadership still had work to do to shore up support for the legislation coming out of last week's Memorial Day recess. “I never intended to bring TPA up this week. Bringing up a bill like that after people are back in their districts is not the best time,” he said. 

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Republicans expect to recruit some Democratic help, while labor unions are intensifying their campaign to limit their Democratic losses. A leading critic of TPA, Sander Levin, D-Mich., told Agri-Pulse he doesn't think the Democratic support for TPA will amount to more than a “few handfuls,” well short of 30. There could be as few as 200 GOP votes for TPA, so at least 17 to 18 Democrats could be needed.

“I don't think anybody has a clear count,” said Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. 

The last time Congress approved TPA, in 2002, it passed the House by a single vote, 215-214.

Some of the wavering conservatives represent rural districts or states, so the American Farm Bureau Federation weighed in Tuesday with a letter to House members, warning them that exports are critical to farm income. “We believe TPA is particularly important to breaking the logjams in both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations, which include nations that represent significant and important growth markets for U.S. farmers and ranchers,” the letter says.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, also has been enlisted in trying to bring some conservatives around. “I'm talking to everybody who's not a full-out ‘yes',” he said.

“We've got folks who don't want to be perceived as helping this president. It's misguided but I understand that. And … there are folks who have other issues, unrelated. They know that their vote is needed for TPA so they're working the system to try to get things they want somewhere else in the system. That's just the legislative sausage-making system that goes on.”

The AFL-CIO's campaign against fast-track included a march to the U.S. Trade Representative's office on Tuesday to demand release of the text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that has been negotiated. Under the TPA bill, the text would be released to the public after the negotiations are concluded but two months before President Obama signs it.

“The resistance has to be understood. The resistance is there are so many outstanding issues in TPP,” said Levin, referring to issues such as currency manipulation that opponents say the agreement isn't adequately addressing. “Once you vote for TPA you give up your leverage.”

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