- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

The House cleared the first piece of the complex package of trade bills Thursday, easily approving preferences for Haiti and African countries in a move President Obama and GOP leaders hoped would pave the way for the bigger votes later this week.

Optimism abounded among free-trade supporters — though House Speaker John A. Boehner wouldn’t declare victory ahead of a Friday showdown, saying only that Republicans will provide enough support but that it’s up to Mr. Obama to deliver dozens of his own party members.

“We’ll do our part, and I hope they’ll do their part,” he said.

He got another early victory Thursday afternoon when the House narrowly approved the rules for debate for the bigger trade bills ahead: assistance for workers displaced by trade deals; stiffer enforcement to ensure other countries are following trade standards; and the big one, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which grants fast-track negotiating powers to the president.

Eight Democrats joined most Republicans in the vote on the debate rules, signaling the outlines of the bipartisan coalition Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner have forged.

Mr. Boehner has already made a number of concessions to Democrats, including changing funding for the worker assistance bill and writing the debate rules to accommodate Democrats’ preferences for how the bills come to the floor.

But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, refused to tell reporters Thursday how she’ll vote on TPA Friday even if Republicans make one final adjustment to extend the trade assistance to public-sector workers — a priority for her party.

“I will be making my statement in full probably on the floor of the House tomorrow,” Mrs. Pelsoi said.

Mr. Obama is reaching out to Democrats in an effort to win over final votes, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

“Everybody from the president on down, including many members of his team here at the White House and his economic team across the administration, are making an aggressive case to members of Congress about why they should support this trade package that is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives over the next couple of days,” Mr. Earnest said. “Democrats and Republicans should be able to seize common ground to advance values that they share.”

The president’s pitch is for Democrats to trust that a liberal president such as himself wouldn’t negotiate a bad trade deal.

The House will need to approve four bills as part of the trade package on the floor this week.

Thursday’s initial vote was on a relatively minor bill to provide duty-free treatment to goods from sub-Saharan nations as an enticement for them to strive toward open markets. It also continues preferential treatment for Haiti.

That bill passed on a 397-32 vote.

Still to come are votes on the worker assistance, on rules for enforcing trade agreements, and on the major bill, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would grant fast-track negotiating powers to the president. TPA says that in exchange for Congress having more access during the secret negotiations, the White House would be able to submit a deal for an up-or-down vote, without amendments in the House or Senate.

If TPA is approved, it sets the stage for Mr. Obama to complete negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal he’s working on with 11 other Pacific Rim nations to reduce trade barriers.

Much of the opposition to TPA actually stems from fears over the TPP, which is secret right now — though lawmakers are allowed to review the current negotiating documents as long as they swear not to reveal the details.

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