Ryan launches trade agenda

Greg Nash

Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanHispanic lawmakers face painful decision on Puerto Rico Sessions: Ryan 'needs to' endorse Trump soon Dole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate MORE (R-Wis.) is putting his muscle into reaching a deal on trade with President Obama.

The new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is speaking about the trade agenda on an almost daily basis, and sending the signal that the White House and congressional Republicans can reach an agreement to approve fast-track negotiating authority, which would speed the consideration of two pending trade deals.

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“Completing these trade deals is my No. 1 priority,” Ryan said Thursday at a Washington International Trade Association event in Washington. 

Along with Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), the chairman of the subcommittee on Trade Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), Ryan plans to hold dozens of meetings with members of his own party to build support for the agenda.

While Democrats are more divided on fast-track — and Ryan has argued that Obama must deliver support from his own party — the Ways and Means chairman is also focused on producing Republican votes.

Ryan sees trade as an area where the Republican-controlled Congress and Obama can work together, and where the GOP can show its ability to govern.

“We can’t lose sight of the bigger picture — of what we’re doing and why — because it’s not just our economy that’s on the line,” Ryan said. “It’s our credibility.”

Fast-track, which would prevent Congress for amending the trade deals, was last approved by the House in 2002.

Ryan and Tiberi are veterans of that vote, and remember the difficulty in winning support from a Republican House for a Republican president.

Winning the vote for Obama could be even more difficult.

But more than half of the current class of 246 Republicans weren’t in office at the time of the 2002 vote.

Unions, environmental groups and other organizations are fighting back against the effort, building pressure on Democrats to oppose fast-track.

Ryan has been notable in his praise for Obama’s efforts on trade. He has said that he appreciates Obama ratcheting up his involvement in the push for Democratic votes. 

He and the president are also pushing back on some policies they believe could submarine support for fast-track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Asian and Latin American countries, such as demands that it include language targeting foreign currency manipulation. 

Ryan told reporters this week that he expects fast-track, also known as trade promotion authority, to pass this spring despite loads of Democratic opposition. 

“We simply can’t get the best deals without TPA,” Ryan said Thursday. “That’s why we’ve got to pass it as soon as possible.” 

The argument he makes with Republicans and Democrats alike is that by building trade deals, the U.S. can help set the rules for the global economy.

“And if we don’t like the way the global economy works, then we have to get out there and change it,” he said this week.

Besides fast-track and the TPP, Ryan wants to win reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences, which lowers tariffs on imports to the U.S. from poorer countries.

He also wants to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which lowers tariffs on African goods, and to find a way forward for the miscellaneous tariff bill.

Ryan also told reporters that he is in discussions about renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance — a Democratic priority — although he doesn’t expect to add it to a TPA bill. 

Ryan also told reporters that he is in discussions about renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance although he doesn’t expect to add it to a TPA bill. The program offers assistance to U.S. workers displaced by expanded trade.

He also said that the United States needs to work toward implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which could add up to $1 trillion to the global economy, as well as the Environmental Goods Agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement and expanding the Information Technology Agreement, all goals of the Obama administration. 

“Trade is good for America,” he said. “People have legitimate gripes with the global economy. But let’s be sure we’ve grabbed the right culprit.”