By Vicki Needham - 02/03/16 12:01 AM EST
GOP in no hurry to move on trade deal
Congressional Republicans appear to be in no hurry to consider an expansive Pacific Rim trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations who are set to sign the controversial deal Wednesday.
House and Senate Republicans are calling on the Obama administration to do more to address outstanding concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) they argue have undermined support for the agreement on Capitol Hill.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyIRS doubted legality of ObamaCare payments, former official says Report: Pacific trade pact would boost growth, jobs and incomes Puerto Rico debt becomes constitutional fight on the right MORE (R-Texas) said that while the TPP could potentially provide the U.S with an economic boost, the agreement has several major problems that must be resolved before lawmakers can consider taking a vote on the sweeping deal.
Brady told reporters after the panel’s retreat Monday that the TPP discussions with the Obama administration are part of the process to examine “areas where we believe the White House could have negotiated more strongly and in a more beneficial way for our American workers and businesses.”
He said that he hopes talks between the White House and Congress will provide a resolution “sooner rather than later.”
Trade ministers from all 12 TPP countries are gathering in Auckland, New Zealand, to sign the trade deal on Wednesday evening, Washington, D.C., time.
The deal was completed Oct. 5 and the text of the pact was released a month later.
Rep. Dave ReichertDavid ReichertLawmakers, small businesses praise employee stock ownership plans Bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduces tariff bill Business ups pressure for tariff relief MORE (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, told reporters there is plenty of work ahead, and he doesn’t expect Congress to consider a final deal until the end of the year.
"We really want to support the TPP, but we want to make sure it is the best agreement for the people of the United States," Reichert said after the retreat.
The committee’s message to U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Obama administration strikes deal on TPP data storage White House developing legislative strategy to pass Pacific trade deal MORE was that all options are on the table, including a renegotiation of the agreement — which Reichert acknowledged could be difficult, considering a dozen nations are involved.
The contentious issues include intellectual property protections for high-tech biologic medicines and a carve-out for tobacco that has agitated tobacco-state lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection MORE (R-Ky.).
“I think the real question is what satisfies the members who have those issues,” Reichert said.
While the signing of the deal is a significant step, there is not a hard and fast deadline on when the White House will send Congress the implementation bill that they will eventually consider.
The White House and Congress have said they will work together and find an appropriate window to send the deal to Capitol Hill.
"So far, the White House has said to us that they don't plan on presenting it to the Hill until we're ready," Reichert said.
Froman, who is on his way to New Zealand for Wednesday evening’s signing, told reporters Tuesday that with momentum for passage building, discussions with Congress are entering an important phase.
“It’s imperative we move forward,” Froman said. “I’m confident that coming out of the signing we’ll be able to continue our work with congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle to do just that.”
The deal positions the United States squarely where it needs to be when it comes to global leadership and is a key component of the economic and geopolitical pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, he said.
In the months ahead, Froman said the White House will engage Congress in four key areas to build TPP support — meetings and hearings with lawmakers and committees, enforcement of the deal’s commitments, working with members on how TPP’s implementation will address any challenges they have identified and releasing a series of detailed reports on how the agreement meets congressional and U.S. policy objectives.
How fast the White House and Congress can wrap up talks on the massive agreement will likely dictate when the House and Senate might take a vote.
Froman said he expects key members of Congress to come to the table for discussions on how quickly they can move forward.
“As we have made clear, we stand ready to engage with stakeholders and members of Congress on issues that they have questions about and which are of concern,” he said.
“We want to work with Congress to move this ahead as soon as possible.”
To that end, President Obama and Vice President Biden sat down with Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy MORE (R-Wis.) and McConnell at the White House on Tuesday, where they talked trade. Ryan and the president had a private lunch, as well.
Ryan’s office said the leaders discussed a number of concerns that lawmakers have raised about the substance of the TPP that must still be addressed.
McConnell said Tuesday that he hasn’t budged from his plan to wait until the lame-duck session after the November elections to consider the deal.
“I have some problems with the agreement, and it’s pretty obvious to anybody who will state the obvious that with both the Democratic candidates for president opposed to the deal and a number of presidential candidates in our party opposed to the deal, it is my advice that we not pursue that, certainly before the election,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
“Some would argue that it’s not fair to the voters for them not to consider what you might do after the election. So what we agreed to do is to keep talking about it," he said.
Biden told Democrats during their retreat last week that he is going to lead the charge to get the TPP through Congress.
"I know a lot of you don't like TPP, but you're going to have to see me," Biden said. "I apologize, because they think we get along with each other, so they're sending me."
Brady remained consistent in his stance, saying that “we’re going to let the substance and the support drive the timing."
“We will neither delay it or hasten a vote on it,” he said.
Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers support the agreement and are trying to work out the remaining knots while actively lobbying for the deal's passage.
Rep. Ron KindRon KindLawmakers, small businesses praise employee stock ownership plans Bipartisan bill would cement IRS Free File program Bottom Line MORE (D-Wis.), who supported the president's efforts to obtain trade promotion authority last summer, said the signing is important because it reflects the support of the 11 other nations in the deal.
During meetings at home in Wisconsin, Kind said he has been seeing more heads nodding than shaking about the TPP's potential benefits for his state.
He said the deal "achieved some marks and some objectives that many of us were calling for.
"You're never going to end up with a perfect agreement, but this one, I think, advances the ball down the field in a significant way," he told The Hill.
Labor unions and the majority of congressional Democrats oppose the expansive agreement, arguing that the pact will result in lost U.S. jobs and decreased wages.
On Wednesday morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), both vocal opponents of the agreement, are joining MoveOn to deliver 1 million petitions calling on Congress to reject the agreement.
"Americans cannot afford to enter into a trade agreement with foreign countries that do not meet our nation’s rigorous standards," DeLauro said in a statement.
Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, called the signing “an affront to the communities, clean air and water and climate that would be threatened by the deal’s flawed rules."
“It's more important than ever before to urge Congress to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Soloman said.