Many congressional Democrats and Republicans remain at odds about the need to pass fast-track authority and smooth congressional passage for future free trade agreements.
A top Senate Republican urged the Obama administration on Wednesday to work harder in building support for trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation while leading Democrats pushed back against a bill.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that "everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now" about granting fast-track authority, an ominous sign for its chances in the upper chamber.
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that without White House support, the TPA bill, which he is co-sponsoring, faces an uphill battle to passage and dims the hopes of the eventual approval of two massive trade deals — one in the Asia-Pacific and the other in Europe.
Reid has recently called the legislation controversial and would not guarantee floor time for the bill led by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
Baucus is expected to leave Congress soon to take up residence in Beijing as the U.S. ambassador to China. A committee vote is set on his nomination for Tuesday.
Without Baucus, Democrats would need a new leader to steer the bill through the committee amid growing Democratic opposition.
Some House Democrats argued on Wednesday that President Obama's quick mention of TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) And U.S.-European Union deal in Tuesday night's State of the Union address is indicative of a clashing economic agenda.
Democrats argued that current trade policies contrast with White House efforts to create jobs, raise wages and tackle what the president argues it a growing inequality of opportunities here.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's trade policies, said the president's lack of attention to the issue "demonstrates the broad opposition" to fast-track authority.
DeLauro also theorized that the president realizes that there is Democratic and public opposition to trade and that it would not make for a good rallying cry.
She said that keeping it out of the public debate means that efforts to build support will head behind closed doors where proponents, including top business groups, will try to "persuade people in any way they can to get what they need."
Although Obama called for passage of the TPA legislation during Tuesday's speech, Hatch argued that, right now, the push isn't strong enough to bring passage to fruition.
"If Congress does not renew TPA, the administration’s ability to conclude high-standard trade agreements — whether it’s TPP, TTIP, or any other agreement — will be greatly diminished," Hatch said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"And, that’s probably an understatement. In truth, it will be virtually impossible for the administration to conclude these agreements without TPA."
Hatch argued that the desire for more trade deals through Congress on a fast-track should spur a greater push to pass the measure as soon as possible and it will need bipartisan support.
Hatch said he has been underwhelmed at this administration’s support and with the efforts to get Democrats in Congress on board.
"To put it bluntly, they’re never going to fall in line unless the president shows more leadership on this issue," he said.