House GOP sets vote Friday to clear fast-track trade bill

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 10, 2015 - House Republican leaders are setting up a showdown vote Friday on the fast-track trade bill that the Obama administration says will clear the way for wrapping up negotiations on a Pacific Rim agreement. 

The House is expected to vote on the Senate-passed Trade Promotion Authority bill (HR 1314) along with a separate enforcement bill (HR 644) and a measure continuing duty-free treatment for imports from developing countries (HR 1295).

GOP leaders were not expected to bring the legislation to the floor until they were assured it could pass.

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“I feel pretty good about this,” TPA backer Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said of the bill's prospects. “There's a better understanding of what the bill is and what it is not.”

The TPA legislation lays out negotiating guidelines and sets out the process for considering trade agreements in Congress. Under the legislation, agreements cannot be amended by Congress, a requirement that is critical to negotiating deals, supporters say.

To win over GOP conservatives, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan inserted provisions in the enforcement bill to tighten restrictions on trade negotiators. One provision, pushed by Steve King, R-Iowa, would bar trade deals from including language that could require the United States to increase immigration, while another would bar trade deals from addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

A third provision intended to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans would allow lawmakers to send aides to attend the negotiating rounds.

Ryan, R-Wis., told the House Rules Committee Wednesday that the immigration language would ensure that a president can't use a trade deal to increase immigration levels. “Members are rightfully concerned that this administration might try to find a way to abuse” the agreement, he said.

One conservative on the panel wasn't convinced, Michael Burgess, R-Texas. He argued that the confidential Trans-Pacific Partnership text includes what he said appears to be a loophole that could be used to increase U.S. entry visas. But King later came to the Rules hearing and told the panel that he believed the provision was sufficient. "I'm confident that the language does what it needs to do."

Labor unions were keeping pressure on Democrats to vote against the TPA bill, but Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said GOP leaders appeared to have the votes they needed lined up, including about 25 Democrats.

Peterson has not taken a position on the legislation, although he indicated he was less concerned after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Peterson said he has felt little pressure to vote for the legislation. "They haven't been acting real desperate."

With the vote nearing, opponents of the bill were targeting the section of the bill that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs that provide technical assistance and cash payments to workers, farmers and businesses harmed by surges in imports. TAA is a priority for Democrats, but a letter the AFL-CIO sent to lawmakers attacked a Medicare cut used to fund the TAA assistance and said the programs wouldn't be assured of enough money.

Managers of the trade legislation plan to replace the Medicare cut by making a change to another one of the trade bills, but that didn't satisfy the AFL-CIO. “Members would still be on record for cutting Medicare - and promises to fix legislative concerns through other vehicles that require additional Senate action often prove illusory,” the letter said. 


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