Pelosi criticizes Obama-backed trade bill

Pelosi criticizes Obama-backed trade bill
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Abortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday that bipartisan legislation expanding President Obama's trade authority sets the stage for bad trade deals harmful to U.S. workers. 

Weighing in for the first time since the trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation was introduced last week, Pelosi said the bill lacks safeguards protecting U.S. workers and fritters an historic opportunity to improve worker rights, food safety and the environment across the globe.

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Pelosi is backing a Democratic substitute, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), she said addresses those issues and sets Democrats on “a path to yes” on a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that stands as a top priority of Obama's second term.

“We recognize there will be bumps in that road, that path. [But] I think what the Republicans put out, what the Senate plus [Rep. Paul] Ryan put out, is not a bump in the road, it's more like a pothole,” she told reporters in the Capitol. “And we can do better than that.”

Pelosi stopped just short of saying she'll vote against the TPA measure if it reaches the House floor in its current form — “I'm not telling you how I'm voting on anything because we don't have anything to vote on yet,” she said — but also criticized the legislation for stealing too much power from Congress to influence the debate.

“On trade where we have a strong prerogative, that bill surrenders much of our prerogative. So let's see how we can improve that bill,” she said. “The status quo is not good, [and] in some places where the bill validates the status quo, that's ... viewed as a setback.”

Sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ryan (R-Wis.), the proposal would grease the skids for trade deals like the Trans-Pacific pact by allowing Congress a vote of approval — but not powers of amendment — over such agreements. 
 
The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure Wednesday, and the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to follow suit Thursday afternoon.
 
But the floor votes will be much tougher — particularly in the House — as Democrats are lining up overwhelmingly against the TPA legislation, and Obama is lobbying hard to change their minds. 
 
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders are supporting Obama in the fight, but opposition from some conservatives — who are reluctant to grant new trade powers to a president they distrust — means the Republicans will likely need Democratic support to win the 218 votes needed to pass the bill through the lower chamber. 
 
It's a dynamic Boehner acknowledged Thursday, pushing responsibility on Obama to find Democratic votes.
 
"I'm confident that we'll get it done," Boehner told reporters. "But in order to accomplish our goal, we're going to need some bipartisan support. This bill have strong support from House Republicans. We'll do our part, but the president must do his part, as well."
 
Pelosi is also well aware that Democrats may have some leverage in the debate, and she's hoping to use that power to make changes addressing the liberal concerns on the environment, food safety, the rights of workers abroad and, perhaps most importantly, the effect on jobs at home. 
 
"The real measure of all of this is: What does it do to the paycheck of America's workers?" she said. 
 
"I don't know why it's such a mystery that everybody wouldn't try to get something better where we have leverage — where we have leverage," she added. "We have an opportunity now, when they need 218 votes, to say, 'This is a possibility, why can't we all just come together and do this in a way that ... increases the paychecks of the American worker as we further engage in global trade, but do not have our workers be the losers in a deal?'"