Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' MORE (R-Ky.) is brushing off calls from business groups for quick action on President Obama’s sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal.
The National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable announced their support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this week as part of what looks like a choreographed effort to raise pressure on Congress.
But McConnell’s office says his position hasn’t changed and that Obama shouldn’t bother to send the TPP to Congress until after the elections, when it might be possible to hold a vote in a lame-duck session.
A senior Senate Republican aide said Tuesday that McConnell couldn’t move the TPP through Congress before September even if he wanted to because of congressional review requirements set out by the trade promotion authority law enacted last year.
Congress’s annual summer recess will start earlier than ever this year because of political conventions scheduled for late July.
“By the time it starts to move, it’s past August,” the senior GOP aide said of the TPP. “We told people they’d have time to read it.”
Several trade experts and Senate sources acknowledge a tight schedule for considering the deal but dispute the claim that the TPP cannot make its way past procedural requirements before the late summer.
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the only legally enforceable time requirement is the mandate that the administration must notify Congress 90 days in advance before signing off on the deal. The administration submitted its notice on Nov. 5.
“The way the Fast Track statute is written, legally the president could submit the TPP implementing bill on Feb. 5 or any date thereafter and Congress wouldn’t have any legal recourse,” she said.
The White House views the TPP as one of the most
important legislative goals for Obama’s final year in office.
It would like to see Congress move quickly and not leave the issue to an unpredictable lame-duck session.
McConnell, however, could have several reasons for wanting the deal to wait.
While the Senate GOP leader has been focused on chalking up legislative victories to show that Republicans can govern, the TPP would be a tough vote for several vulnerable senators McConnell wants to protect.
GOP senators facing tough reelection bids include Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanConquering Trump returns to conservative summit ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R), of Ohio, a manufacturing hub, and Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteLewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire NH governor 'not aware’ of major voter fraud Former NH AG: 'Allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless' MORE (R), of New Hampshire, which lost more than 20,000 jobs because of the trade deficit with China, according to a 2012 Economic Policy Institute study.
“Is there a benefit politically or a detriment politically to any of those vulnerable senators?” asked a business lobbyist who is pushing for quick congressional approval.
“It’s important for the business community to move this as quickly as possible, but you can’t ignore that we’re in a super political year, a presidential year, where the leading candidates on both sides are anti-TPP,” the source added.
McConnell and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance A guide to the committees: Senate 7 key players in the GOP's border tax fight MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, are also disappointed with provisions in the TPP touching on pharmaceuticals, tobacco and financial services.
Some trade experts think McConnell is refusing to promise fast action on the deal to put pressure on Obama to renegotiate provisions that have rankled Republicans.
“I would imagine Sen. McConnell is negotiating for changes in the TPP, which is why he’s being so negative about its
prospect of it passing,” said Wallach, who opposes the deal and is a veteran of numerous congressional trade battles.
Delaying congressional approval of the deal would give Republican critics such as Hatch leverage on items potentially detrimental to the pharmaceutical industry.
The financial services industry is also pressing for changes.
Pharmaceutical and financial services companies have learned a lesson from the battle over the South Korean free trade agreement, which the automobile and beef industries leveraged to extract more concessions.
In a December interview with The Washington Post, McConnell warned the administration against moving the deal any time soon.
“It certainly shouldn’t come before the election,” he said.
Business groups have been divided over the TPP, but the statements of support from big trade associations could put pressure on McConnell.
The Business Roundtable, for example, sees the April to July time frame as the TPP sweet spot.
BRT President John Engler told The Hill that trying to pass the expansive TPP in a lame-duck session — after a new president is elected — is fraught with complications amid a transition to another administration, he said.
“Trying to do anything during that period is complicated,” Engler said. “They should get it done earlier and avoid that aggravation.”
It’s unclear whether McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Trump: House GOP's plan for border tax could create more jobs Conservatives to Congress: Get moving MORE (R-Wis.) are on the same page when it comes to the TPP.
Ryan has called for careful congressional review but has not gone as far as McConnell in his criticism of the deal.
“We want to scrub this trade agreement to make sure that it reaches and meets the standards that we call for in TPA,” he told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council in November.
When asked if it could fall beyond 2016, Ryan said, “I don’t know the answer to the question yet,” but added that he has more ability to “control the clock” in the House compared to McConnell in the Senate.