Se­nate gives Obama a big win on trade

‘ Fast track’ au­thor­ity on Pa­cific Rim ac­cord clears a key hur­dle af­ter he al­lies with long­time GOP foes.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro

WASHINGTON — Nearly two weeks af­ter his am­bi­tious trade agenda was nearly de­railed by fel­low Democrats, Pres­i­dent Obama is poised to clinch the big­gest leg­isla­tive vic­tory of his sec­ond term with a Se­nate vote Wed­nes­day that would give him the au­thor­ity he says he needs to com­plete a sweep­ing 12- na­tion Pa­cific Rim ac­cord.

The pro­longed bat­tle, which strained re­la­tions be­tween the pres­i­dent and his party, came with the help of long­time Repub­li­can ad­ver­saries. Many Democrats op­pose the com­ing Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and sim­i­lar trade deals be­cause they be­lieve the pacts will sac­ri­fice U. S. jobs to cheaper over­seas com­pe­ti­tion.

Ar­gu­ing that the trade deal is vi­tal to coun­ter­ing China’s ris­ing eco­nomic power, Obama over­came ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion from big trade unions and fel­low Democrats by forg­ing a rare al­liance with House Speaker John A. Boehner ( R- Ohio) and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell ( R- Ky).

The po­lit­i­cal turn­around fol­lowed in­tense White House lob­by­ing and a heavy dose of back­room deal- mak­ing to se­cure the f inal votes needed.

“This has been a long and rather twisted path to where we are to­day, but it’s a very, very im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ment for the coun­try,” McCon­nell said. “Amer­ica is back in the trade busi­ness.”

The so- called fast- track bill cleared its f inal pro­ce­dural hur­dle Tues­day in the Se­nate by a 60- 37 vote. There wasn’t a sin­gle vote to spare in over­com­ing a Demo­cratic- led f-ili­buster. Thir­teen Democrats joined the GOP to ad­vance the mea­sure, and f ive Repub­li­cans bucked the Se­nate leader and voted no.

Fi­nal Se­nate pas­sage is ex­pected Wed­nes­day, send­ing the mea­sure to the pres­i­dent’s desk.

“Within reach is an op­por­tu­nity to shape to­mor­row’s global econ­omy so that it ref lects both our val­ues and our in­ter­ests,” said U. S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man. “Now it’s time for Congress to fol­low through.”

Fast track, also known as trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity,

would al­low the pres­i­dent to as­sure po­ten­tial trade part­ners that the deals they ne­go­ti­ate with the U. S. will be pre­sented to Congress for a yes- or- no vote with­out amend­ment.

Trade is a ma­jor driver of Cal­i­for­nia’s econ­omy, so the ul­ti­mate out­come of the Pa­cific deal will af­fect many busi­nesses and work­ers in the state. Cal­i­for­nia is home to the na­tion’s busiest ports and a big ex­porter of elec­tron­ics, farm prod­ucts, ma­chin­ery and many other goods and ser­vices — much of that go­ing to Pa­cific Rim coun­tries, in­clud­ing those in­volved in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Key to win­ning the sup­port of the 13 Democrats were as­sur­ances from both the White House and Repub­li­can lead­ers that the House and the Se­nate also would vote on a re­lated bill to pro­vide worker re­train­ing funds for em­ploy­ees who lose their jobs as a re­sult of trade.

That mea­sure, a long­time Demo­cratic pri­or­ity that most Repub­li­cans op­pose, is ex­pected to have a vote in the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day and in the House on Thurs­day.

“It’s a pretty big vic­tory for the ad­min­is­tra­tion, for Obama — a vic­tory for prag­ma­tism,” said David Bach, se­nior as­so­ciate dean at the Yale School of Man­age­ment, not­ing that the po­lit­i­cal cost to the pres­i­dent of split­ting with his own party was worth the po­ten­tial gains of U. S. lead­er­ship in the Pa­cific.

“The fact that Obama was able to work with Speaker Boehner and come up with a backup plan is not the kind of thing peo­ple would have per­haps ex­pected in this cli­mate of ul­tra- par­ti­san­ship,” Bach said. “It keeps alive the po­ten­tial legacy of his pivot to Asia.”

Oth­ers, though, be­lieve the pres­i­dent may have se­verely dam­aged his abil­ity to work with his party in his re­main­ing 18 months in of­fice.

“It’s a pol­icy vic­tory but not nec­es­sar­ily a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory,” said Ju­lian E. Zelizer, a Prince­ton Univer­sity history pro­fes­sor. “This vote and the de­ci­sion to work around House Democrats will ag­gra­vate the ten­sions that al­ready ex­ist with lib­er­als.

“There isn’t enough time left in his pres­i­dency to re­ally see the im­pact the trade pact will have, but this bi­par­ti­san vic­tory will have some neg­a­tive re­ver­ber­a­tions among al­lies on the Hill.”

This month, in a rare re­buke of Obama by his own party, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi ( D- San Fran­cisco) led Democrats in pre­vent­ing an ear­lier ver­sion of the fast- track pack­age from ad­vanc­ing. Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton also voiced con­cern that the pro­posed trade deal would not do enough to pro­tect Amer­i­can work­ers.

Days later, House Repub­li­cans, work­ing closely with the White House, passed a new fast- track bill and sent it back to the Se­nate.

Demo­cratic crit­ics blasted Tues­day’s vote and pre­dicted the trade deal will ben­e­fit only large cor­po­ra­tions and re­sult in more U. S. fac­tory clo­sures.

“It’s a great day for the big- money in­ter­ests, not a great day for work­ing fam­i­lies,” said Sen. Bernie Sand- ers ( I- Vt.), who is run­ning against Clin­ton for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent.

The pol­i­tics of the trade vote also splin­tered Repub­li­cans, es­pe­cially con­ser­va­tives who were loath to pro­vide greater au­thor­ity to an ad­min­is­tra­tion they do not trust or to help Obama score a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory key to his legacy.

Though most Repub­li­cans sup­port the trade agenda, Boehner and McCon­nell strug­gled to build enough sup­port for pas­sage. In a last- minute f lip- f lop, Sen. Ted Cruz ( RTexas), a GOP pres­i­den­tial con­tender, voted against the fast- track mea­sure, com­plain­ing it had been tainted by Washington “deal- mak­ing.”

Pres­sure on mem­bers of Congress has run high in re­cent days.

The AFL- CIO ran ads against the trade vote warn­ing law­mak­ers that Amer­i­can work­ers will suf­fer. That put or­ga­nized la­bor on the same side as the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Ac­tion for Amer­ica, which told law­mak­ers that they should vote no be­cause the broader trade pack­age is tar­nished by po­lit­i­cal trade- offs and gov­ern­ment pork.

The U. S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and lead­ing busi- ness in­ter­ests urged sen­a­tors to pass the leg­is­la­tion.

As late as Mon­day it was still un­clear whether the White House and Repub­li­can lead­ers would muster the votes they needed.

McCon­nell vowed that the worker as­sis­tance pro­gram would get a Se­nate vote Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing at­tached to a pop­u­lar trade bill that gives pref­er­ences to goods com­ing from sub- Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries. The GOP leader also added to that bill a pro­vi­sion im­por­tant to Ohio sen­a­tors to pro­tect the steel in­dus­try from il­le­gally low- priced im­ports.

And McCon­nell pledged to do his best to have a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee of House and Se­nate law­mak­ers re­solve dif­fer­ences over a cur­rency bill sought by Democrats to pun­ish coun­tries that ar­ti­fi­cially inf late their cur­ren­cies. House Repub­li­cans had loaded the cur­rency bill with un­re­lated pro­vi­sions on immigration and cli­mate change that Democrats op­pose.

A pre­vi­ous prom­ise from McCon­nell to key Se­nate Democrats that he would al­low a vote on reau­tho­riz­ing the Ex­port- Im­port Bank ap­pears on track for July af­ter sen­a­tors re­turn from a hol­i­day re­cess.

Even so, pro- trade Sen- ate Democrats re­main skep­ti­cal about the chances of the re­train­ing pro­gram and other mea­sures pass­ing in the House.

So the White House and GOP Se­nate lead­ers urged Boehner late Mon­day to tamp down such con­cerns. On Tues­day, the speaker as­sured sen­a­tors that “we re­main com­mit­ted” to send­ing the en­tire pack­age “to the pres­i­dent’s desk this week and de­liver this win for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

The worker as­sis­tance bill still faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the House be­cause Repub­li­cans op­pose the spend­ing as gov­ern­ment waste and Democrats pre­vi­ously voted against it as part of a broader strat­egy to halt the fast- track leg­is­la­tion. Un­der the pre­vi­ous ver­sion, both the fast- track au­thor­ity and the re­train­ing pro­gram had to pass the House in or­der to ad­vance.

Now that fast track and the re­train­ing pro­gram have been sep­a­rated, House Democrats may no longer have a rea­son to vote against the as­sis­tance funds.

Though Obama has said he prefers to sign both bills to­gether, he has not said whether he would sign the fast- track bill if the re­train­ing mea­sure fails to pass.

‘ This vote and the de­ci­sion to work around House Democrats will ag­gra­vate the ten­sions that al­ready ex­ist with lib­er­als.’

— Ju­lian E. Zelizer, Prince­ton Univer­sity

history pro­fes­sor

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