Obama trade pow­ers on fast track for de­bate Law­mak­ers from both par­ties agree pres­i­dent needs author­ity, but faces dis­sent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Top law­mak­ers struck a bi­par­ti­san deal Thurs­day to grant Pres­i­dent Obama fast-track trade ne­go­ti­at­ing author­ity, po­ten­tially paving the way for a mas­sive free trade agree­ment with Asia and ig­nit­ing what is likely to be the top fight of the 114th Congress.

The bill could be a ma­jor part of Mr. Obama’s le­gacy, but first he’ll need to de­liver dozens of Demo­cratic votes in the face of vo­cif­er­ous ob­jec­tions by la­bor unions and lib­eral pres­sure groups, who al­ready have de­clared it a makeor-break vote.

Mean­while, Repub­li­cans will have to sur­mount a smaller re­bel­lion from con­ser­va­tives who balk at giv­ing Mr. Obama any ad­di­tional pow­ers.

Months in the writ­ing, the agree­ment, which will need to clear both cham­bers, would give the pres­i­dent power to ne­go­ti­ate trade deals and then sub­mit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote — a much cleaner process than the al­ter­na­tive of let­ting Congress re­write deals af­ter they have been sub­mit­ted, which would make it al­most im­pos­si­ble to ne­go­ti­ate with other na­tions.

“Open­ing for­eign mar­kets, where most of the world’s con­sumers re­side, is crit­i­cal to cre­at­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for mid­dle­class Amer­i­can jobs,” said Sen. Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, who worked the deal with Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can and com­mit­tee chair­man, and with Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House com­mit­tee.

It’s the lat­est sign of bi­par­ti­san agree­ment in Congress, af­ter deals on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, an ed­u­ca­tion over­haul and doc­tors’ pay­ments un­der Medi­care.

But op­po­si­tion is quickly build­ing among Democrats, and pro­gres­sive groups have de­clared the loom­ing fight a defin­ing battle for the party.

“There is sim­ply no ex­cuse for any Demo­crat who votes for fast track,” said Jim Dean, chair­man of Democ­racy for Amer­ica, one of the pres­sure groups. “Like a vote for the Iraq War or state­ments of sup­port for the So­cial Se­cu­rity-cut­ting Bowles-Simp­son plan, a vote for fast track and the TPP will never be forgotten and will haunt mem­bers of Congress for years to come.”

Known as trade pro­mo­tion author­ity, or fast-track author­ity, the bill is crit­i­cal to hav­ing the pres­i­dent be able to com­plete ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Asian trade deal known as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

Fast-track author­ity also could help the pres­i­dent seal a Euro­pean trade deal, known as the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship, which would try to square U.S. and Euro­pean Union reg­u­la­tory rules.

Repub­li­can lead­ers hope to push the fast-track author­ity through com­mit­tee in the next weeks, po­ten­tially set­ting up floor fights in the House and Se­nate this spring and early sum­mer.

Pres­i­dents have had fast-track author­ity for decades, but the power, last granted in 2002, lapsed in 2007. The lat­est bill would grant a three-year author­ity, with an op­tional three-year ex­ten­sion to take it through the term of the next pres­i­dent.

Mr. Obama vowed that he will use the author­ity only to strike deals that are good for Amer­i­can work­ers, but said U.S. lead­er­ship on trade is es­sen­tial.

“At a mo­ment when 95 per­cent of our po­ten­tial cus­tomers live out­side our bor­ders, we must make sure that we, and not coun­tries like China, are writ­ing the rules for the global econ­omy,” Mr. Obama said in a state­ment. “The bill put for­ward to­day would help us write those rules in a way that avoids the mis­takes from our past, seizes op­por­tu­ni­ties for our fu­ture and stays true to our val­ues.”

The bill is shap­ing up as a battle be­tween pro­po­nents of the bor­der­less tech­nol­ogy econ­omy and the more tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing econ­omy.

Back­ers point to statis­tics that show 20 per­cent of Amer­i­can jobs are al­ready tied to trade, and those jobs on av­er­age pay sig­nif­i­cantly more than work not re­lated to trade.

Op­po­nents say re­cent trade deals, be­gin­ning with the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, have dis­placed Amer­i­can work­ers and ceded con­trol over parts of the U.S. econ­omy to in­ter­na­tional bod­ies.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Open­ing for­eign mar­kets, where most of the world’s con­sumers re­side, is crit­i­cal to cre­at­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Sen. Ron Wy­den.

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