House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday urged the Obama administration to shorten the "fast-track" window for the president's ambitious trade agenda.
[Reposted from The Hill | Mike Lillis | May 14, 2015]
The White House is lobbying hard for a trade-promotion authority (TPA) bill, also known as fast-track power, that would facilitate emerging trade deals with Asia and Europe by easing their passage through Congress.
But Pelosi warned that the TPA bill under consideration would also govern trade negotiations as far as six years into the future, including deals Congress would effectively be accelerating without knowing anything about them. She likened it to a get-out-of-jail-free card for presidents — both Obama and his successor — to negotiate trade accords without much congressional input.
"One overriding concern that members have on the TPA, is that this is not a TPA … just for the Pacific bill, the TPP bill, or the European bill that will be coming up. This is really effectively … a carte blanche fast-track of three years, which is easily renewable for three [more] years," she said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "This fast-track is for things unknown, and I would hope that there could be some addressing of the length of time and the open season that it gives for any trade agreement."
Pelosi has not said how she'd vote on the TPA bill. Her strategy provides Obama and other administration officials space to lobby lawmakers, even as her left-leaning caucus is lining up in overwhelming opposition to the president's trade agenda. But she has strongly suggested that the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord being negotiated with Japan, Vietnam and nine other nations has too many outstanding problems for most Democrats to support.
She rattled off a number of those concerns Thursday, including issues surrounding workers rights, dispute resolution, food safety and the environment.
Looking beyond the substantive concerns, Pelosi suggested that the existing TPP text, though still in flux, has at least provided lawmakers with a window into the deal they'd be greasing with the fast-track authority. The six-year span included in the TPA bill, she warned, means Congress would be facilitating future negotiations blindly.
"What we're saying is, '[You]'re asking for fast-track. Let's see what you're asking for fast-track for,' " she said.
Pelosi also seemed supportive of a Senate bill, pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), to combat currency manipulation among foreign governments. The White House has warned including that measure in the package will sink the emerging Asia-Pacific deal, but Pelosi suggested such legislation is needed to keep American workers competitive with U.S. trading partners.
"The administration has been pretty clear that they don't want … this in the bill. We keep saying, 'Well, what other suggestions would you have?' Because there is a general belief that currency manipulation has been responsible for a loss of many jobs in our country," Pelosi said.
"It is effectively a government subsidy that some countries have used," she added, "and it's unfair, in terms of trade."
The Senate passed Schumer's bill Thursday afternoon by a vote of 78 to 20.