After years of agenda battles between the Republican-held House of Representatives and the Democrat administration, John Boehner and Barack Obama seem to have found common ground on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Obama’s proposed12-nation free-trade agreement will need to be ratified by Congress in order to take effect. Recently in the congressional spotlight, the Trade Promotion Authority Bill, (TPA) which would guarantee an up-or-down vote on the free-trade deal without the possibility of amendments. The House is prepared to vote as early as next week on the bill.
Republicans who criticize the fast-tracking of TPA do so because of arguments ranging from their fear of encroachment on legislative power to angst over that deals that could include immigration provisions. Republican leaders have done their best to mitigate those concerns reiterating that the streamlined negotiating authority lasts only six years and will benefit a future administration, not just the current one.
Top Republicans were optimistic on Thursday that the House would take up and pass trade promotion authority in June, although the votes are still not there to carry the bill to victory.
“We had a very good week. We’re not quite there yet. We are picking up votes every day,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters on Thursday. “Undecideds are falling in the right way, so we’re getting within striking distance.”
Meanwhile, an outside political advocacy organization closely aligned with House Speaker John Boehner is spending close to $1 million to promote the bill that would give President Barack Obama fast-track trade authority, saying China will gain economic prominence if Congress fails to act.
The American Action Network, which spent close to $1 million boosting House Republican leadership during the Department of Homeland Security funding fight, is now spending $375,000 for national television ads on Fox News, $250,000 on mail pieces in 25 GOP districts, $200,000 on digital advertising in 65 districts and $75,000 on radio spots.
The TV advertisement blasts Democrats and trade unions for opposing the bill, and says if Congress doesn’t pass trade promotion authority, China will benefit and America will lose. It’s meant to bolster House GOP leadership’s efforts by giving air cover to Republicans vote for TPA.
Obama has been lobbying Congress individually and top administration officials have talked the bill up to Democrats in personal briefings about the legislation.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has not yet come out in support of TPA, but neither has she actively opposed the measure. Nevertheless, Democrat members in the House are facing much pressure from organized labor. The AFL-CIO has been pointedly critical of the measure and particularly so of Ami Bera, a California congressman, who has publically supported TPA. The organization is currently running a television ad against Representative Bera saying, in part, that he is willing to do “anything to keep his job, including shipping your job overseas.”
Union pressure may be working to the benefit of the bill.
“I think labor is going a little overboard,” said Democrat Congressman Cedric Richmond of Lousiana. “The more Trumka talks, the more I lean toward yes.”
According to House Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, he and Pelosi have requested that the Unions back off. Hoyer said that he and Pelosi have asked “our friends in labor to have respect for the decisions of members,” who have always been strongly supportive of American workers.
Currently, 112 House Democrats outright oppose fast-track and 60 refuse to say how they will be voting. The number of Republicans who defect will dictate the number of Democrat votes necessary to pass the legislation.