CAPITOL HILL—President Barack Obama’s ambitious Asia-Pacific free trade agenda was dealt a serious blow Friday when the House of Representatives voted against part of the trade package.
Obama had gone to Capitol Hill Friday morning to make a last minute personal appeal to fellow Democrats, many of whom are concerned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade deal would send more American jobs overseas and hurt the environment.
Even after Mr. Obama met with key members of the party Friday, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she would oppose the legislation.
On the Republican side, House speaker John Boehner had said he would support the measure. “This is one of those moments when we need to remember America is an idea. The best idea is to vote ‘yes’,” he said.
Republicans generally support such free trade agreements, but many in the party are reluctant to play a role in giving Obama what is seen as a major political achievement, especially ahead of 2016 elections.
The White House has been seeking approval of crucial “fast-track” negotiating authority.
[quote font=”arial” font_size=”10″ bgcolor=”#” color=”#” bcolor=”#” arrow=”no”]Washington is in the midst of an intense political squabble over proposed trade deals with Europe and a number of Pacific nations. The debate has sometimes been hard to follow because of a blizzard of terms like TTIP, TAA and other unfamiliar acronyms like these. So here is a brief guide to what all this means: Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, was blocked Tuesday on a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate. TPA is supposed to give Congress a chance to give instructions to U.S. negotiators, who then work, often for years, to hammer out the best possible deal with other nations that trade with the United States. Under TPA, Congress retains the responsibility to approve or reject a signed deal, but cannot amend the agreement. Supporters say U.S. trading partners are not going to make their best offer if they think Congress will pick the deal apart. Supporters expect to amend TPA and resubmit it for approval. Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a proposed deal among 12 Pacific nations, including the United States. Trade officials say this agreement is nearing completion, but some difficult issues remain. Trade deal supporters say having TPA in place would make it easier to get a deal done between the United States and hard-bargaining trading partners. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a proposed deal between the United States and the European Union. These talks are said to be at a relatively early stage. Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, is a program intended to help workers displaced by foreign trade get the training they need to find new jobs.[/quote]
The “fast-track” legislation, known as Trade Promotional Authority, or TPA, would allow the White House to negotiate the 12-nation Asian trade pact and others like it without letting Congress make any changes in the deals when they come up for approval or rejection.
Refusal to grant the negotiating authority would make it much more difficult for the administration to secure the TPP deal, which is already years behind schedule. As a result, Obama has spent significant political capital on the TPA issue.
At a closed-door meeting Thursday at the Capitol, senior White House officials urged House Democrats to support the fast-track bill. Later, Obama made a surprise visit to an annual congressional baseball game in Washington, where he further lobbied lawmakers.
Despite the president’s efforts, only 20 of 188 Democratic members of the House had publicly promised to support the bill Friday. T
Democrats oppose bill
Democratic efforts to scuttle the bill were focused on a program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, a safety net program that would offer to retrain workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals.
Such programs are usually supported more by Democrats than Republicans, but many Democrats said rejecting the initiative is the best way to kill the entire trade deal.
The countries negotiating the TPP are the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei, and Australia. The U.S.-led pact aims to cover nearly 40 percent of global economic output when completed.
The White House has said the TPP would help further break down global trade barriers, open untapped markets, and grow the economy, while providing an important counterbalance to the growing economic strength of China.