House GOP short of votes, but optimistic on fast-track trade bill

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 4, 2015 - Republicans remain short of votes to pass the fast-track trade bill despite getting additional commitments from conservatives this week and help from President Obama, who personally lobbied Democrats to back the measure.

GOP leaders have committed to putting the Trade Promotion Authority measure to a vote this month but haven't announced a more specific schedule yet.

House Republican leaders and committee chairmen such as Paul Ryan of Ways and Means and Mike Conaway of Agriculture have been lobbying conservatives to get behind the Trade Promotion Authority bill, while Obama has tried to build pressure on Democrats to counter the lobbying campaign being waged by labor unions and activist groups.

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After picking up additional commitments Thursday, Ryan told reporters that Republican were “within striking distance” of having the necessary support for the bill.

“We had a very good week,” said the Wisconsin Republican. “We're not quite there yet.”

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters at his weekly news conference that Obama has “more work to do” to win over Democrats. “We're going to get it done in June. We need to get this finished,” said Boehner, R-Ohio.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has largely stayed on the sidelines, said Republicans will need 200 votes to pass the bill, implying that the GOP could count on no more than the some 17 Democrats who have publicly endorsed the bill so far.

But one of those Democrats, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, told Agri-Pulse Thursday he expects 25 to 30 from his party to ultimately vote for the bill, which would mean that Republicans could afford to lose more than 45 of their own.

Republicans currently control 245 House seats, and that number will rise to 246 next Tuesday when their newest member, Trent Kelly of Mississippi, is sworn in to replace the late Alan Nunnelee.

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

President Obama has been talking to House Democrats personally as well as conducting interviews in targeted districts around the country. “The case that he's making in private is entirely consistent with the argument that he's made publicly about the economic benefits for middle-class families associated with this legislation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said this week.

The TPA bill sets negotiating objectives for trade deals and sets up the process for considering the agreements in Congress. Lawmakers would be barred from amending the text of the agreements. Administration officials say that passage of TPA is critical to getting Japan and Canada to make final concessions necessary to wrap up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

The Senate passed its version of the TPA bill (HR 1314) in May, 62-37, wrapped together with an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance programs important to Democrats. TAA provides payments and technical assistance to workers, farmers and businesses harmed by imports.

House leaders plan to hold separate votes on the TPA and TAA sections and put the bills back together. To smooth the passage of TPA, Republicans are pushing some controversial provisions dealing with human rights and currency manipulation into a separate enforcement bill.

Ryan said Republicans would be willing to replace some Medicare cuts that the Senate and his committee proposed to pay for the TAA extension. Ryan said there are other sources of funding for the bill but didn't say what they were. 

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