Repub­li­cans plan new trade vote

White House backs the fast-track push, which puts worker aid at risk and side­steps op­po­si­tion from House Democrats.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Lisa Mas­caro lisa.mas­caro@latimes.com

WASHINGTON — Try­ing to sal­vage Pres­i­dent Obama’s trade agenda, Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress plan to vote again Thurs­day on leg­is­la­tion giv­ing the pres­i­dent fast-track ne­go­ti­at­ing au­thor­ity, sidestep­ping House Democrats’ op­po­si­tion and leav­ing the fu­ture of a worker-as­sis­tance pro­gram un­cer­tain.

It’s a risky move for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), but it is backed by the White House as one of the few op­tions left if Congress is to pro­vide Obama with the au­thor­ity the ad­min­is­tra­tion says it needs to fin­ish ne­go­ti­a­tions on a 12-na­tion Pa­cific Rim trade deal. Un­der the plan, a re­lated worker-as­sis­tance pro­gram — seen as key to win­ning sup­port from some key Democrats — would be han­dled sep­a­rately.

Boehner and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) is­sued a rare joint state­ment late Wed­nes­day pledg­ing their sup­port to en­sure that both bills — Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity and Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance — reach the pres­i­dent’s desk.

“We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Se­nate and are sent to the pres­i­dent for sig­na­ture,” the two GOP lead­ers said.

Un­der the emerg­ing plan, the House fast-track bill could be sent as soon as Thurs­day to the Se­nate, which would prob­a­bly vote on it next week. But it faces a tough climb in both cham­bers amid Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to the fast-track bill and fears that the work­er­train­ing pro­gram, which Repub­li­cans largely op­pose, would be scut­tled.

To al­lay con­cerns from Democrats who want to pre­serve the train­ing pro­gram, the Se­nate would sep­a­rately at­tach the Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance leg­is­la­tion, which pro­vides the train­ing funds, to a re­lated trade bill and send it back to the House for fi­nal pas­sage in that cham­ber.

Obama was per­son­ally call­ing Democrats on Wed­nes­day to shore up sup­port from the few mem­bers of the pres­i­dent’s party who back the trade pack­age, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion sum­moned law­mak­ers to the White House for a hastily ar­ranged se­ries of af­ter­noon meet­ings be­fore the an­nual con­gres­sional pic­nic.

Most Democrats, in­clud­ing party lead­ers, con­tinue to op­pose the fast-track bill, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has largely ma­neu­vered around them in pur­suit of a deal with Repub­li­cans and the small num­ber of Democrats.

But some Demo­cratic votes are still needed to en­sure pas­sage in both cham­bers, and those law­mak­ers were in­sis­tent Wed­nes­day that if they were to lend their sup­port to fast-track, the worker-train­ing pro­gram would have to be ap­proved be­fore it ex­pires on Sept. 30.

“We have to have an un­der­stand­ing: It has got to be both pro­pos­als,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (DDel.), who fielded a call from the pres­i­dent. “Trust is the key. Trust wins the day. Lack thereof de­stroys it.”

Trade pol­icy was thrown into dis­ar­ray last week when Democrats in the House, led by Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Fran­cisco, de­liv­ered a sur­prise re­buke to the pres­i­dent by re­ject­ing his trade pack­age.

The orig­i­nal plan had been to pair the fast-track bill with an ex­ten­sion of the worker-re­train­ing pro­gram as a way to build bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the broader trade pack­age.

But Democrats voted en masse against the worker pro­gram, which they tra­di­tion­ally sup­port, be­cause they saw it as their best chance to halt the fast-track bill.

The fast-track mea­sure, sim­i­lar to those passed in pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, would al­low the 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and fu­ture trade deals to come to yes-or-no votes in Congress with­out amend­ment.

“I don’t think it’s even nec­es­sary,” Pelosi said about fast-track au­thor­ity in a CNBC in­ter­view. “It’s a con­ve­nience for the ad­min­is­tra­tion. It’s an ad­van­tage for the busi­ness com­mu­nity. But it’s a hard­ship for work­ers.” Democrats fear a trade deal will cost Amer­i­can jobs.

Repub­li­cans were hope­ful Wed­nes­day that many of the 28 House Democrats who sup­ported fast-track would do so again. Boehner met pri­vately with about a dozen of them this week. Af­ter­ward, one of them, Rep. John De­laney (D-Md.), said he was op­ti­mistic the bills would be ap­proved.

Less cer­tain is whether Boehner or McCon­nell will be able to muster any ad­di­tional Repub­li­can votes. More than 50 House Repub­li­cans op­pose fast-track and get­ting them to switch their votes to make up for pos­si­ble Demo­cratic de­fec­tions is prov­ing dif­fi­cult.

Although Repub­li­cans have 54 seats in the Se­nate, they must rely on Democrats to reach the 60-vote thresh­old needed to ad­vance a fast-track bill.

Four­teen Se­nate Democrats had sup­ported fast­track when it was bun­dled with the train­ing pro­gram in that cham­ber’s bill. Sup­port from most of them still would be needed amid some GOP op­po­si­tion.

Many of those Demo­cratic sen­a­tors needed a guar­an­tee that the as­sist- ance pro­gram, which now would be at­tached to a sep­a­rate bill giv­ing trade pref­er­ences to some African na­tions, would be­come law.

White House Press Sec­re­tary Josh Earnest tried to calm con­cerns by in­sist­ing Wed­nes­day that the pres­i­dent would sign the bills at the same time.

“The only leg­isla­tive strat­egy that the pres­i­dent will sup­port is a strat­egy that re­sults in both TPA and TAA com­ing to his desk,” Earnest said. “It will re­quire the sup­port of Democrats in both the House and the Se­nate. And it will re­quire the House and Se­nate to con­tinue to op­er­ate in bi­par­ti­san fash­ion.”

As­sur­ances that the bills will be signed to­gether were key to many Democrats, in­clud­ing Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia. “That’s the guar­an­tee that peo­ple want,” she said.

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