Dem leaders lining up against Obama on trade

House Democratic leaders are lining up against legislation granting President Obama broad new authority to negotiate trade deals.

Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice-chairman of the caucus, both said Wednesday that they’ll vote against the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill, known as fast-track, when it’s marked up Thursday in the Ways and Means Committee, on which both sit.

{mosads}“If it’s the TPA that I saw introduced, I would not be supporting that TPA,” Becerra told reporters after a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol.

“We find elements that are good,” he added, “but we had indicated over the last several months things that would have to be in a bill to make it really work. And if it’s not going to help create jobs in America, and if it’s going to cause American jobs to be outsourced outside of America, it’s tough to want to be for that kind of a bill.”

Crowley echoed that message, noting that he opposed a similar proposal pushed by former Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), and the latest version offers little improvement.

“I indicated that I would not support this legislation if it was not discernibly different from the Camp draft,” Crowley said. “And my intention tomorrow is to vote against this proposal.”

The comments are bad news for Obama and Republican leaders, who are hoping to move the fast-track bill this month as a tool for catalyzing sweeping new trade agreements with Europe and the Asia-Pacific nations. 

“Trade is good for America. It helps strengthen our economy, create more American jobs,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. “We need to get this passed.” 

GOP leaders are struggling to rally the 218 votes, however, because many conservatives don’t want to grant new authority to a president who they’ve accused for years of abusing his executive power.

The Republican opposition means GOP leaders will likely need Democratic support to pass the bill through the lower chamber.

It remains unclear, though, how many Republicans might defect, leaving open the second question of how many Democratic votes GOP leaders might need to pass the bill through the lower chamber.

Eleven members of the New Democrat coalition issued a statement suggesting they’ll back the legislation, and Democratic lawmakers and aides are predicting the range of Democratic supporters will eventually stretch anywhere from 15 to 30 lawmakers. 

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said there’s been no communication between his office and GOP leaders about the fast-track vote.

“There certainly hasn’t been any discussion with me and [Kevin] McCarthy or [Steve] Scalise about numbers of votes. Nor are we counting at this point in time,” Hoyer said. “That may occur in the future.”

Along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hoyer has so far declined to weigh in on the merits of the fast-track bill — a position he reiterated Wednesday.

“I’m still working through that,” he said.

Asked if there are enough Democrat supporters to pass the measure through the lower chamber, Becerra shifted the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of GOP leaders. 

“That’s really a question for the Speaker and the majority … because that bill that was put forth did not include the participation of most House Democrats,” Becerra said.

Boehner and GOP leaders view the debate very differently, blaming Democrats for threatening the fast-track bill and questioning why so many lawmakers across the aisle are bucking their own president on one of the top policy priorities of his White House tenure.

For the Democratic critics, the concern stems largely from the 1993 debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, on which many lawmakers felt misled at the expense of U.S. jobs.

“NAFTA created a lot of jobs, but it eliminated a lot of jobs,” Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Wednesday, suggesting he’s also leaning against the fast-track bill. “So what we want to do is make sure that this is a deal that will create jobs and help grow jobs.”

Becerra also indicated that the trade debates of the past are weighing heavily on the current TPA debate.

“Right now, I think a lot of us in the House are hoping to see a bill that won’t make the mistakes of the past, that will take the best elements of the past and give us something we can vote on,” he said.

Tags Joe Crowley Steny Hoyer Xavier Becerra

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