Amid news reports suggesting that there may not be enough votes in the House to give President Obama the fast-track trade authority he is seeking, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has a message for the White House: Not my problem.
A bill that would authorize the president to deliver a pre-negotiated trade deal to Congress for an automatic up-or-down vote is in danger. Massive Democratic opposition combined with a significant minority of Republicans who are also against it appear to leave the legislation short of the majority it needs to pass.
The opposition stems from very different causes. Democrats oppose fast track because they dislike the underlying Trans-Pacific Partnership – likely the first trade agreement the administration would deliver. They are concerned that it would open the door for businesses to ship jobs to countries where lost-cost workers don’t enjoy the same protections as their American counterparts. They also worry that while industry voices have been closely involved in the negotiations, other concerned parties, such as labor and environmental groups, have been excluded.
Republicans generally oppose fast track because it would allow President Obama to decide what Congress votes on. Politico reported on Thursday morning that as many as 75 GOP members might vote against the bill.
The defections mean Boehner will not be able to get Trade Promotion Authority through the House on Republican votes only, but the Speaker made it clear that in his view, the House GOP conference is doing its part.
Speaking to the press late Thursday morning, Boehner said: “[O]ne thing is clear. There will be strong Republican support for Trade Promotion Authority. The other point you should keep in mind is that every Democrat leader in the House and Senate is opposed to giving the president what he’s asking for and the president needs to step up his game in terms of garnering more support amongst Democrats, especially here in the House.”
He said advocates of the deal have done enough to sell it to the public.
“Trade has been very good for America,” Boehner said. “It’s created, frankly, millions of jobs in our country. But I don’t think those who are involved in trade have done a very good job of helping the American [people] understand the benefits of trade and why it’s good for America. That’s why we have this struggle every few years when it comes to a trade bill or when it comes to trade promotion authority.”
The struggle Boehner referred to is largely being instigated by Democrats, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who today announced he is running for the presidency, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who many on the left want to run for president.
In an interview today with Vermont Public Radio, Sanders ripped into the deal. “If you want to understand why the middle class in America is disappearing and why we have more wealth and income inequality in America than we have had since the late 1920s, you have to address the issue of trade,” he said.
“All of the major corporations want to continue with this trade policy,” Sanders said. “Wall Street wants to continue this trade policy. The drug companies want to continue this trade policy. But organizations representing American workers and the environment… want new trade policies.”
If Obama is going to change the minds of Democrats like Sanders, he’s got his work cut out for him.
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