A personal touch on trade?

President Obama needs to personally engage with lawmakers if he is to move his trade agenda through Congress, according to a former top administration official.

Francisco Sanchez, the former head of the International Trade Administration, told The Hill that the president needs to go up to Capitol Hill and talk to lawmakers one by one to ensure passage of trade promotion authority (TPA) and, eventually, massive Asia-Pacific and European trade agreements. 

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“He needs to go to the Hill and make the case for why this is so critically important,” Sanchez said. 

Obama is facing skeptics in his own party over the trade priorities. The TPA bill would make it easier to move the trade agreements by preventing Congress from amending the deals.

President George W. Bush had the authority, but it expired before Obama took office.

Sanchez said he views TPA, also known as fast-track authority, as key to the president obtaining many of his economic objectives, from more robust job creation to doubling U.S. exports by next year. 

The White House reiterated on Friday that it intends to convince Congress to grant Obama the authority.

A senior administration official also said Obama’s team realizes they must convince members of their party to back the president.

“The onus is on us,” a senior administration official said. “We don't want people to take our word for it. We're going to continue to make the case that this is in the interest of the United States.”

Business groups that back trade promotion authority are making noise with Congress, including by producing state-by-state fact sheets hawking what they say are trade’s benefits to local governments and business groups. 

Chris Moore, director of international business policy for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said his group is “acting on all fronts to build support for TPA on the Hill and across the country.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have expressed reservations about the fast-track legislation produced by former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), panel ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). 

And labor groups have also expressed opposition, warning the legislation would ship more jobs overseas.

Major groups including NAM, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have organized together in the Trade Benefits America Coalition, a group of more than 170 U.S. business and agricultural associations and companies. 

David Thomas, vice president at Business Roundtable, said his group will keep the pressure on.

“We will keep the drumbeat up on what we think is very positive and how trade supports U.S. growth and job,” he said. 

Christopher Wenk, the Chamber’s head of international policy, said “the bottom line is this is still a huge priority and it is the top legislative trade priority for the Chamber and those efforts are continuing.”

Wenk argued that it is a positive development that congressional leaders and many people around the country are talking about trade, which is keeping it in the spotlight.  

While he said the way forward is uncertain as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) transitions into his new job as Senate Finance chairman, he is hopeful that lawmakers will look at the Baucus-Camp bill.

“They made a lot of improvements in the negotiating objectives from the 2002 bill so we need to see where this goes,” he said. “To those folks trying to write off TPA for this year I say it’s only Feb. 14.”