House Republicans on Thursday put their weight behind White House-backed trade legislation that would pave the way for passage of sweeping global agreements.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved a trade promotion authority (TPA) measure — 25-13 — with only two Democrats lending their support to the bill, highlighting the difficulty President Obama is having courting members of his own party.
“We need to be sending the signal that American leadership is back … [and] we're back fully engaged in economic foreign policy,” he said.
The House’s action follows the Senate Finance Committee’s approval by a 20-6 vote — with seven of the panel’s 12 Democrats favoring its version of the bill — late Wednesday night, setting up floor votes in each chamber sometime next month.
Approval of the legislation bolsters Obama’s plans to forge far-reaching trade deals from Europe and Latin America to the Asia-Pacific, which represents more than 60 percent of the world economy.
The bill guarantees the 12 trading partners of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the 28-nation Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that U.S. lawmakers won’t alter their agreements. Congress would, however, have a chance to vote on approval of the measures.
Liberal House Democrats adamantly opposed to the legislation say their dissatisfaction of the overall trade agenda stems from the potential loss of U.S. jobs under the new trade deals.
They say similar international trade pacts have disappointed in the past and contributed to job losses and wage stagnation at home.
“These trade deals have sucked the air out of the room we call our nation,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the panel’s top Democrat, said that TPP “negotiations are not on the right track.”
Levin’s attempt to make wholesale changes to the Ryan bill fell through the cracks after his substitute amendment was ruled out of order because it crossed committee jurisdictions and thus never got a vote.
A frustrated Levin, who protested the decision, kept making his case.
“What’s happening here is trying to use a point of process against major policy, that is a major mistake,” Levin told the committee.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who along with other House Democratic leaders supported Levin’s amendment, had blasted Republicans earlier in the day for using procedural moves to deny a vote on Levin’s alternative.
Pelosi criticized the Ryan bill as "a pothole" in the road to a TPP that ensures protections for the environment, food safety and workers rights. Still, she stopped 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.
Meanwhile, the president is imploring skeptical Democrats to focus on what is actually in the trade agreements before making a final decision.
His efforts have become more insistent this week with action percolating on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, the president said pursuing the new trade deals is “the right thing to do” regardless of whether they are unpopular with labor unions and liberal Democrats.
“When people say this trade deal is bad for working families, they don't know what they're talking about,” he said during a fiery speech at the Organizing for Action summit in Washington.
“I take that personally. My entire presidency has been about helping working families.”
Republicans who are aligned with Obama on trade share the belief trade will grow jobs, expand the economy and solidify the U.S. presence in the Pacific Rim.
Vote-counting is ongoing, but Boehner's comments acknowledge Republicans will require Democratic help to reach the 218 votes needed in the House to pass the measure.
The provisions included stricter anti-currency manipulation measures and new rules aimed at strengthening the government’s regulatory safeguards. All of them failed.
Ryan offered an amendment at the end of the markup that incorporated two amendments adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday night.
One discourages boycotts, divestments and sanctions by European countries against Israel and would allow negotiators to raise the issue in the TTIP talks.
The other raises human rights to the status of a principal negotiating objective.
Besides fast-track, the House panel approved a Trade Adjustment Assistance bill that helps those who have lost jobs to trade, renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act and a measure that lowers tariffs for some developing nations as well as a customs and enforcement bill.
— Updated at 9:51 p.m.