Politico: Trade pact may not come up in House until after 2016 election

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President Barack Obama's signature trade deal - the Trans-Pacific Partnership - may not get taken up by the GOP-run Congress until after the 2016 elections, senior Republican and Democratic aides said Wednesday.

[Reposted from Politico  |  Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan  |  Ocotber 14th, 2015]

Mike Sommers, chief of staff for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said at a Ripon Society meeting that Congress was unlikely to move on the massive trade package until a lame-duck session more than a year from now. Hazen Marshall, policy director for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who was also at the session, agreed that a TPP vote was more likely to happen in a lame-duck session, and added that the White House was trying to work with congressional leaders on timing.

One attendee said the senior GOP staffers' message was "TPP is dead until the lame duck."

The massive trade deal, which covers a dozen nations and 40 percent of the world's GDP, has drawn criticism from both GOP and Democratic presidential candidates. For instance, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - who once called the TPP the "gold standard" for trade deals - said during a Democratic debate on Tuesday night that she would not support it.

"I did say, when I was secretary of State, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard," Clinton said. "It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn't meet my standards."

A number of trade unions, environmental groups, consumer and heath care organizations - all major players in the Democratic Party - have come out against the TPP.

For his part, McConnell has already raised concerns about TPP as well, saying it needs "intense scrutiny" from lawmakers before getting congressional approval. The Kentucky Republican, who has warned the Obama administration not to go after tobacco companies, has said there are "a number of troubling parts" in the agreement. The TPP includes a "carve out" in legal protections for the tobacco industry, a move that has upset lawmakers from tobacco-growing states.

White House officials and pro-free trade groups and companies had hoped Congress would take up the measure by next summer, although that timetable now looks to be in jeopardy.

"I don't think this is going to come up until the lame duck, when you have a lame-duck president and a lame-duck speaker [Boehner] and all these other lame-duck members who can vote to support it," said a senior House Democratic aide. Boehner has announced he wants to resign by Oct. 30, but turmoil inside the House Republican Conference has led to a delay in choosing a successor. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) withdrew from the speaker's race last week, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) - the leading contender - has not said whether he will do the job.

If approved, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership would be one of the largest trade deals in history. The agreement, which negotiators finalized earlier this month, lowers trade barriers between Pacific Rim countries and standardizes how intellectual property is treated globally. Critics of the deal say it doesn’t put strict enough rules on countries to protect the environment or go far enough to protect workers in the United States.

Under the trade promotion authority law enacted earlier this year, the White House is required to make the text of a trade deal public at least 60 calendar days before a deal is signed, but it's required to notify Congress a full 90 calendar days before signing a deal. Congress must approve or reject the TPP within 90 legislative days once it is formally submitted for review, and it cannot be amended by lawmakers.

Lauren French contributed to this report.

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