- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

House Republican leaders Thursday set an end-of-month deadline for passing fast-track trade powers, kicking off an all-out push that will test their surprising alliance with President Obama as they search for the final votes to win a majority.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House point man for trade, said Republicans don’t have enough votes now but are winning more support daily simply by countering false fears about the effects of granting Mr. Obama fast-track powers to negotiate trade deals.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she won’t provide any help to pass the bill. That leaves Mr. Obama as the one to deliver Democratic votes, a weak point for him in the past few years.

Mrs. Pelosi said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, will have to provide 200 votes out of the 218 that constitute a majority in the House.

“The speaker should be able to deliver 200 votes. The awesome power of the speaker — I know of what I speak,” she said.

Mr. Boehner, however, said it’s up to Mr. Obama to work on persuading Democrats, who are increasingly reluctant to back their party leader, particularly on free trade.

“He’s got some work to do,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.

If Mrs. Pelosi’s math is right, fewer than one in 10 House Democrats will support the trade powers, and they will make up less than 10 percent of the final vote in favor of trade. In the Senate, nearly a third of Democrats voted for the fast-track bill that passed that chamber last month.

Officially titled Trade Promotion Authority, the fast-track bill gives presidents the power to negotiate trade deals and then submit them to Congress for final approval without amendments.

If trade deals could be amended, analysts say, negotiations would be impossible to complete because other countries would be worried about having agreements undercut on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Obama needs fast-track powers to complete a massive Pacific Rim trade deal with 11 other countries.

“We’re not quite there yet. We’re picking up votes every day,” Mr. Ryan said. “We’re getting within striking distance.”

Liberal opponents argue that trade has been a losing proposition for American workers. They question the secrecy of negotiations on the Pacific Rim deal and wonder what unsavory details it contains.

Conservative opponents, who are far fewer in number but just as vocal as their liberal counterparts, argue that they can’t trust Mr. Obama to negotiate good deals, and they protest giving up the ability to amend whatever agreement the president submits.

Mr. Obama said the fast-track bill Congress is debating is the most progressive in history, requiring him to consider human rights as part of any deal and insisting on tougher labor and environmental standards for would-be trading partners.

Republicans are working on fellow lawmakers in their party and leaving it to Mr. Obama to persuade Democrats. Only about 15 Democrats are considered to be on board right now.

Mr. Ryan said that number will have to rise if the bill is to succeed.

“Getting there is going to require some progress on the other side of the aisle,” he said.

They are now rushing a self-imposed end-of-month deadline for voting because Mr. Boehner said waiting until July won’t help.

“Sooner’s better than later,” he said.

Mr. Ryan said the process of winning over reluctant Republicans usually involves explaining exactly what is and what is not in the Trade Promotion Authority bill. When lawmakers realize that the bill gives Congress the power for a final say on any trade agreement, they are mollified, he said.

Mr. Ryan said he makes “geopolitical arguments as well,” contending that if the U.S. doesn’t advance deals, it will fall behind the rest of the world, which is opening up to trade.

As for Democrats, Mrs. Pelosi said they have been “respectful” in allowing Mr. Obama’s team to make the case for trade deals, though to little effect.

The White House wouldn’t dispute Mrs. Pelosi’s math that Republicans will have to produce 200 votes in the House for trade authority, but press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama will continue to make personal appeals to Democrats to try to win more support.

“We went up against that kind of pressure in the United States Senate, and we succeeded in getting about a third of Democrats to support this legislation,” Mr. Earnest said.

Mr. Ryan said tweaks will be needed to several bills that are accompanying fast track. The package of assistance to workers displaced by free trade will need a different means of funding, and language to enforce rules against manipulating currency for trade advantages will need improvement, he said.

That means more votes will be needed in the Senate, which passed a package of four bills, including Trade Promotion Authority, on a 62-37 vote two weeks ago.

Despite the hurdles for the House bill, Mr. Boehner said, “We’re going to get it done.”

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