April 16, 2015 by Bill Johnson
Legislation sought by President Barack Obama to boost his trade agenda, including a deal with Pacific nations, was unveiled in Congress with key lawmakers agreeing on a compromise designed to win support from reluctant Democrats.
Senators Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee that oversees trade policy, and Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat, on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill that would let the White House send Congress trade pacts for votes without amendment, known as trade promotion authority. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan introduced the bill in the House.
Wyden succeeded in adding language giving Congress the right to jettison the so-called fast-track process if enough lawmakers find the president ignored negotiating goals.
“We included new tools to hold the administration accountable, including a procedure that Congress can employ if our trade negotiators fail to consult or make progress toward meeting the negotiating objectives,” Hatch, of Utah, said at a committee meeting.
The bill is designed to smooth the way for Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral deal that the Obama administration hopes to complete this year with nations on both sides of the Pacific. The U.S. and the European Union are working on a similar pact.
Obama, who had pledged to double U.S. exports when he took office six years ago, in a statement said he was pleased with the legislation.
“I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass this bill, seize this opportunity, and support more good American jobs with the wages and benefits hardworking families deserve,” he said.
The legislation also seeks to combat currency manipulation and end barriers to digital trade, according to a statement accompanying the measure.
Hatch has said he will hold a committee hearing April 23 to debate then vote to advance the bill.
Six Senate Democrats led by New York’s Charles Schumer, the party’s third-ranking leader, in a joint statement criticized expedited consideration of trade accords.
“Congress should undergo a thorough and deliberative committee process for debating trade agreements,” according to the statement also signed by Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Hinting at opposition from Democrats in the House, Speaker John Boehner challenged Obama to deliver their votes.
“Republicans stand ready to work with President Obama,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement. “He must secure the support from his own party that’s needed to ensure strong, bipartisan passage.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself the nation’s largest business advocacy group, came out in favor of the bill and signaled it would lobby for passage. “With facts and arguments, we’ll win this trade debate,” the Washington-based group said in an e-mail.