President Obama on Friday pressed Congress to act quickly and grant him the trade authority he needs to finalize major deals with Asia and other markets.
Speaking at a White House press conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Mr. Obama praised an agreement reached Thursday between key lawmakers in the House and Senate to give him the fast-track trade power he seeks. Fast-track authority would allow the president to negotiate trade agreements and then present them to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, rather than allow lawmakers to rewrite the deals or make substantive changes.
Mr. Obama pushed back against skeptical Democrats who aren’t yet on board with the administration’s push for massive new trade deals. He tried to tamp down Democrats’ concern that the agreements are bad for U.S. workers, arguing the deals aren’t meant to help corporations but instead will contain the necessary rules and regulations to protect average American families.
“My whole presidency has been about helping working families and lifting up wages and giving workers more opportunity. And if I didn’t think this deal was doing it, I wouldn’t do it,” Mr. Obama said. “I didn’t get elected because of the sponsorship of the Business Roundtable or the Chamber of Commerce. Those aren’t the ones who brung me to the dance. The reason I’m doing it is because I know this is an important thing to do and I also know it sends signal throughout Asia that we are out there competing. And we are going to help maintain international rules that are fair for everybody and not so tilted in favor of one country.”
Should Congress grant him fast-track trade authority, Mr. Obama reiterated that the first deal on his agenda would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would include the U.S. and a dozen Pacific Rim nations.
Mr. Obama stressed that such a deal is necessary not only to allow U.S. businesses greater access to burgeoning Asian markets but also to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
“If we do not help to shape the rules so our businesses can compete in those markets, then China will set up rules that advantage Chinese workers and Chinese businesses and that will set the stage over the next 20, 30 years for us being locked out” of international markets, the president said.