Trade tops Ryan's Ways and Means 2015 agenda

New House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: It's Trump's 'prerogative' to fire Sessions It's time to take a close look at how federal policies affect states New Dem message doesn’t mention Trump MORE said Tuesday that giving President Obama expanded trade powers would be a top priority this year as the powerful panel seeks an avenue for faster economic growth.

The Wisconsin Republican identified trade promotion authority (TPA) as the first issue he would tackle. Under TPA, also known as fast-track authority, Congress gets an up-or-down vote on any trade deal that reaches Capitol Hill.

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Ryan said TPA would give Congress the power to set negotiation objectives for trade agreements, get the best deal from global partners and hold the Obama administration accountable on trade.

“Building a healthy economy, that is our mission this year,” Ryan said at his first hearing at the helm of the tax-writing committee. 

Ryan and other Republicans on the panel said that expanding trade will open more markets to U.S. exports and, in turn, boost jobs creation and economic growth.

"As we all know, 96 percent of the world’s consumers, they don't live here," Ryan said.

"I believe Americans can compete with any country. We just need to give them a chance," Ryan said. "Break down these barriers and American trade — along with American jobs — will take off."

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the panel, said a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is at a "vital juncture" and many important issues have yet to be resolved that will require bipartisan discussions. 

Levin called the TPP the "most significant negotiation in over 20 years and urged Ryan to work with Democrats on the details of TPP to ensure that Congress is a full partner in shaping the massive agreement, which includes nations from Chile to Japan.

The president, who met with House and Senate leaders at the White House on Tuesday, reiterated that there's an opportunity to work together on trade.

Negotiators working on the TPP have said they hope to complete the deal early this year. If that happens, it would probably take another six months or so to get the deal ready for votes in the House and Senate. 

Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have expressed support for granting fast-track power, which boosts the chances of approving any trade deal that reaches Congress. 

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) said during the hearing that TPA would give U.S. negotiators the "best leverage to move forward" in the talks and that other nations such as Japan won't put their best offers on the table until Congress can get it passed. 

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), the new chairman of the panel’s trade subcommittee who backs quick passage of fast-track, asked witnesses what they consider trade's top benefits.  

In response, Douglas Holtz-Eakin president of the American Action Forum, said moving forward on fast-track authority now is important because it gives the United States a chance to write global trade rules that will benefit the U.S. economy.

He said opening markets will grow jobs and help the labor market return to full employment.

“It means better income and better jobs, not just more, but people’s jobs will be better as a result,” he told the panel.

He said the TPP and another major trade pact dubbed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have the potential to create more than 1 million U.S. jobs and boost growth by more than $200 billion.

But many Democrats have expressed frustration with the secrecy of the negotiations and are concerned that trade deals would hurt American workers.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is stepping up its outreach to the business community and lawmakers in its effort to bolster support for trade. 

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet and deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman are sitting down on Tuesday with a wide range of business leaders to discuss how trade policy affects their businesses at a roundtable organized by the White House Business Council and advocacy group Business Forward.

“Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. is spearheading the most significant trade agenda in history,” Holleyman said.

"By helping our businesses sell more exports abroad, United States trade policy can unlock opportunity, support well-paying jobs, and strengthen our middle class."  

Back on Capitol Hill, Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and other conservative groups are urging Congress to reject trade promotion authority.

ALG President Richard Manning called on Congress to "not cede any additional authority to a president who has spent the past six years shredding the constitutional separation of powers."

Updated at 12:25 p.m.