Politico: Trade bill fate in doubt as debate kicks off


A controversial trade bill is well shy of the votes needed to pass the House and faces a difficult vote in the Senate as the debate in Congress kicks off in earnest this week.

[Reposted from Politico  |  Lauren French, Burgess Everett, and John Bresnehan  |  May 11, 2015]

Congressional sources say that fewer than 20 House Democrats currently back giving President Barack Obama increased powers to cut trade deals — a top priority of the White House and the business lobby. And with Senate Democrats vowing to stall consideration of Obama’s request for fast-track trade authority possibly for weeks, Republicans in both chambers face a high hurdle to get the measure through Congress.

Each side is projecting confidence that it will prevail. Indeed, this is a rare debate in Congress in which ideological lines are so scrambled that the outcome is truly anyone’s guess.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to take up the bill, and Minority Leader Harry Reid is leaning on his caucus to block the chamber from doing so until it first deals with reform of government surveillance programs and transportation legislation. The procedural vote is as much a barometer of the retiring Reid’s hold on his divided caucus as it is a gauge of support for the trade bill. That’s because some Democrats who back the trade bill are nonetheless expected to support the Nevada Democrat’s bid to force the GOP’s hand on the other measures.

Opponents and advocates of the trade bill still regard the Tuesday vote as important. If Democrats are able to stop Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from bringing the trade legislation to the Senate floor until June, it will give liberal and labor groups more time to mobilize opposition in Congress and complicate Obama’s efforts to clinch the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Senate Republicans are plainly worried about the effect of Reid’s procedural gambit.

“I don’t even want to speculate on that,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said last week.

Nonetheless, the Senate is expected to eventually approve the so-called trade promotion authority bill — which would allow Obama to submit unamendable trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes — whenever it comes up for a final vote. The bigger drama may turn out to be in the House, where the overwhelming majority of Democrats and a large contingent of Republicans oppose the measure.

Passage of the bill there will put pressure on House GOP leadership to schedule a quick vote, even though congressional sources predict supporters in the House need at least 20 more votes to pass the legislation.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told lawmakers that the House will likely take up TPA in May after the Senate acts, but he didn’t allot a specific time on the calendar. But he and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have their work cut out for them.

Upward of 60 House Republicans are expected to vote against TPA despite a push from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — a key policy figure within the Republican Conference — for support. That means Obama and Boehner would need 30 or more Democrats to back the bill — a tough sell within a caucus that is both deeply skeptical of labor provisions and pushing for the inclusion of enforceable currency language in the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Still, those close to Ryan are confident Republicans can round up enough votes to get the trade authority bill over the 217-vote threshold. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is setting up small meetings with Republicans and Ryan for this week as part of a push to bring skeptical GOP lawmakers on board.

“The more members learn about the bill — and how it empowers Congress, not the president — the more confident we grow,” said Ways and Means spokesman Brendan Buck.

Republicans have been counting votes for more than a week but still have to persuade a faction of Republicans who are hellbent on denying Obama any additional executive authority — even on trade, a policy that normally enjoys broad support from the GOP.

McCarthy said Thursday that Republicans need to weigh the economic boost that trade provides the U.S. and look past their distrust of Obama.

“We cannot hold ourselves back because someone does not care for the person in the White House. We have a check and balance,” McCarthy said. “Ronald Reagan did not stop and not move forward because the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. He moved forward each and every day and he took what he could get and came back the next day for what he didn’t get.”

Still, the larger problem is within the Democratic caucus.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have been fiercely whipping members against fast track for a year. She brought 151 Democrats together to oppose the legislation last year and predicted on Friday that if the House were to vote on the measure this month, it would fail.

“I’m very confident, so what does that tell you?” she said. “We have overwhelming opposition to TPA.”

Aides think fewer than 20 Democrats are prepared to sign onto the TPA legislation, and both sides are battling over a pool of members sources put at close to 40.

Democrats have had their ears bent by both sides for months. The Obama administration has been holding briefings for the past three months for members to sell the trade deal. And on Thursday, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman and other top Obama administration officials will brief lawmakers on the trans-Pacific trade deal.

Last week, Obama hosted a group of Senate Democrats at the White House to shore up support, and he has invited House Democrats for policy discussions on trade. He’s courting members of the Congressional Black Caucus and for weeks has sent top deputies to Capitol Hill to attempt to secure more votes.

The White House offensive is drawing rare praise of Obama from Republicans.

“He’s showing some strength on this,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “It’s the president’s job to lead the country on important issues and lead his party. And on this, he’s doing that.”

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, one of the most outspoken supporters of TPA in the House, argued more Democrats will side with Obama as they learn about the trade bills.

“The administration has been very proactive, with the president personally reaching out … and addressing concerns that members may have had,” said Kind, who chairs the moderate New Democrat Coalition.

Kind noted that just last week three Democrats said they would support TPA — Reps. Ami Bera of California, John Delaney of Maryland and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon — a boost for proponents that he predicted would continue. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat, also announced last week her intention to vote for TPA.

As for the planned Senate vote on Tuesday, there are signs Reid is prevailing on Democrats on both sides of the trade issue to stand by him. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) had been adamant that he’d vote against Reid but later turned around to say he can’t guarantee he’ll vote to advance the trade package, evidence that Reid’s argument is, at the very least, turning what should be an easy vote for Republicans into a toss-up.

“For a man who is not known for his subtlety, he’s been very clear about his views,” one Democratic senator said of Reid’s efforts. “But he’s also saying: ‘You know what, you’ve got to reach your own decisions.’”

Even Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has refused to say that he will vote to open debate on the trade legislation on Tuesday — a startling development to Republicans who thought they had a deal with Wyden to move the fast-track trade bill alongside a measure to provide aid to workers hurt by the free trade agreement.

But in interviews, Wyden and other Democrats say they want more, including greater assurances that Congress will also renew a duty-free trade program with African countries and a trade enforcement package that the GOP views as further complicating the bill.

“We’re still in discussions about what that really means,” Wyden said of the vote to open debate.

Democrats say McConnell has not yet sketched out how or whether various trade-related bills will be rolled together. That’s a potential sticking point for Democrats, who are insisting that four pieces of trade legislation be taken up as a package.

No matter how McConnell handles those bills, their complexity practically ensures the debate won’t wrap up before the Memorial Day recess, no matter the result on Tuesday.


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  • commented 2015-05-12 09:54:57 -0400
    Frankly free trade is evil. It violates the social gospel and the common

    good in society. It degrades and deflates the value of workers and
    labor. It smashed the real free enterprise system. It divorces
    investments from production and moves factories anywhere in the world
    for the sake of cheaper labor costs. It frees investments from their
    responsibilities of supporting human dignity in the workday. It denies
    workers their right to property which is the fruits of their labor.

    It puts workers on a global trading block to compete with one another
    for the same jobs down to the lowest levels of wage slave and even child

    It caused a revolution in Mexico when giant agricultural corporations
    subsidized by government put subsistence living farmer out of business.
    Several Mexican bishops called it cultural death. It had to bailed out
    in 1995 when Pres Clinton had to rush billions of dollars to Mexico to
    save the peso and the Mexican economy even though more than 4000 U.S.
    factories were moved to Mexico. It has government act as brokers and
    dealers with government controlling the process not trading partners.

    It is sad to see so many conservatives participate in this evil process.
    They know millions of workers have lost their jobs due to it and free
    trade had to bailed out again in a massive way in 2008 when Pres Obama
    took over. He bailed out big money interest on the top and ignored the
    suffering of millions who lost everything due to free trade. Hurricane
    Katrina in New Orleans exposed a vast underclass living in a silent
    depression. It took a hurricane to reveal the situation. In many major
    cities in the inner cities, as many as 50 percent of young blacks are
    unemployed. Overall the unemployment reporting is fiction. About 60
    percent of all workers are living in economic limbo missing in action
    from any real reporting of their situation. The underground economy is
    filling the void. The term underemployment has lost its meaning. It is
    more normal than regular forty hour a week jobs.

    How can any person of good will want to keep something like this going.
    It is a broken system in more ways than one

    View – For whom the bell toll- listing the companies and jobs lost in
    just 1998 while Pres Clinton was declaring prosperity at http://tapsearch.com/workers-dignity-betrayed
    http://tapsearch.com/confessions-for-history. See lists of relating
    site references at http://tapsearch-master-site.page.tl