Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Trade Accord

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 Before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the trade pact Thursday: Senator Robert Menendez, seated at table, and standing from left, Senators Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Ron Wyden of Oregon; Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew; and Michael Froman, the United States trade representative. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Before a Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee hear­ing on the trade pact Thurs­day: Sen­a­tor Robert Menen­dez, seat­ed at table, and stand­ing from left, Sen­a­tors Ben­jamin L. Cardin of Mary­land and Ron Wyden of Ore­gon; Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Jacob J. Lew; and Michael Fro­man, the Unit­ed States trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Cred­it Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WASHINGTON — Key con­gres­sion­al lead­ers agreed on Thurs­day on leg­is­la­tion to give Pres­i­dent Oba­ma spe­cial author­i­ty to fin­ish nego­ti­at­ing one of the world’s largest trade accords, open­ing a rare bat­tle that aligns the pres­i­dent with Repub­li­cans against a broad coali­tion of Democ­rats.

In what is sure to be one of the tough­est fights of Mr. Obama’s last 19 months in office, the “fast track” bill allow­ing the White House to pur­sue its planned Pacif­ic trade deal also her­alds a divi­sive fight with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, one that could spill into the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

With com­mit­tee votes planned next week, lib­er­al sen­a­tors such as Sher­rod Brown of Ohio are demand­ing to know Hillary Rod­ham Clinton’s posi­tion on the bill to give the pres­i­dent so-called trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty, or T.P.A.

Trade unions, envi­ron­men­tal­ists and Lati­no orga­ni­za­tions — potent Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­stituen­cies — quick­ly lined up in oppo­si­tion, argu­ing that past trade pacts failed to deliv­er on their promise and that the lat­est effort would harm Amer­i­can work­ers.

The deal was struck by Sen­a­tors Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the Finance Com­mit­tee chair­man; Ron Wyden of Ore­gon, the committee’s rank­ing Demo­c­rat; and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Paul D. Ryan, Repub­li­can of Wis­con­sin and chair­man of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. It would give Con­gress the pow­er to vote on the more encom­pass­ing 12-nation Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship once it is com­plet­ed, but would deny law­mak­ers the chance to amend what would be the largest trade deal since the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment of 1994, which Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton pushed through Con­gress despite oppo­si­tion from labor and oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­stituen­cies.

While sup­port­ers have promised broad gains for Amer­i­can con­sumers and the econ­o­my, the clear­est win­ners of the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship agree­ment would be Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture, along with tech­nol­o­gy and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, insur­ers and many large man­u­fac­tur­ers that say they could also expand Unit­ed States’ exports to the oth­er 11 nations in Asia and South Amer­i­ca that are involved.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma embraced the leg­is­la­tion imme­di­ate­ly, pro­claim­ing “it would lev­el the play­ing field, give our work­ers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong ful­ly enforce­able pro­tec­tions for work­ers’ rights, the envi­ron­ment and a free and open Inter­net.”

Today,” he added, “we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to open even more new mar­kets to goods and ser­vices backed by three proud words: Made in Amer­i­ca.”

But Mr. Obama’s enthu­si­asm was tem­pered by the ran­cor the bill elicit­ed from some of his strongest allies. To win over the key Demo­c­rat, Mr. Wyden, the Repub­li­cans agreed to strin­gent require­ments for the deal, includ­ing a human rights nego­ti­at­ing objec­tive that has nev­er exist­ed on trade agree­ments.

The bill would make any final trade agree­ment open to pub­lic com­ment for 60 days before the pres­i­dent signs it, and up to four months before Con­gress votes. If the agree­ment, nego­ti­at­ed by the Unit­ed States trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, fails to meet the objec­tives laid out by Con­gress — on labor, envi­ron­men­tal and human rights stan­dards — a 60-vote major­i­ty in the Sen­ate could shut off “fast-track” trade rules and open the deal to amend­ment.

We got assur­ances that U.S.T.R. and the pres­i­dent will be nego­ti­at­ing with­in the para­me­ters defined by Con­gress,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dave Reichert, Repub­li­can of Wash­ing­ton and a senior mem­ber of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. “And if those para­me­ters are some­how or in some way vio­lat­ed dur­ing the nego­ti­a­tions, if we get a prod­uct that’s not adher­ing to the T.P.A. agree­ment, than we have switch­es where we can cut it off.”

To fur­ther sweet­en the deal for Democ­rats, the pack­age includes expand­ing trade adjust­ment assis­tance — aid to work­ers whose jobs are dis­placed by glob­al trade — to ser­vice work­ers, not just man­u­fac­tur­ing work­ers. Mr. Wyden also insist­ed on a four-year exten­sion of a tax cred­it to help dis­placed work­ers pur­chase health insur­ance.

Both the Finance and Ways and Means com­mit­tees will for­mal­ly draft the leg­is­la­tion next week in hopes of get­ting it to final votes before a wave of oppo­si­tion can sweep it away. “If we don’t act now we will lose our oppor­tu­ni­ty,” Mr. Hatch said.

At a Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee hear­ing Thurs­day morn­ing, Jacob J. Lew, the Trea­sury sec­re­tary, and Michael Fro­man, the Unit­ed States trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, plead­ed for the trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty.

T.P.A. sends a strong sig­nal to our trad­ing part­ners that Con­gress and the admin­is­tra­tion speak with one voice to the rest of the world on our pri­or­i­ties,” Mr. Lew tes­ti­fied.
Even with the con­ces­sions, many Democ­rats sound deter­mined to oppose the pres­i­dent. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sander Levin of Michi­gan, the rank­ing Demo­c­rat on the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, con­demned the bill as “a major step back­ward.”

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and vir­tu­al­ly every major union — con­vinced that trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty will ease pas­sage of trade deals that will cost jobs and depress already stag­nant wages — have vowed a fierce fight. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. announced a “mas­sive” six-fig­ure adver­tis­ing cam­paign to pres­sure 16 select­ed sen­a­tors and 36 House mem­bers to oppose fast-track author­i­ty.

We can’t afford to pass fast track, which would lead to more lost jobs and low­er wages,” said Richard Trum­ka, pres­i­dent of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “We want Con­gress to keep its lever­age over trade nego­ti­a­tions — not rub­ber-stamp a deal that deliv­ers prof­its for glob­al cor­po­ra­tions, but not good jobs for work­ing peo­ple.”

In all, the bill sets down 150 nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives, such as tough new rules on intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty pro­tec­tion, low­er­ing of bar­ri­ers to agri­cul­tur­al exports, labor and envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, rule of law and human rights. Reflect­ing the mod­ern econ­o­my, Con­gress would demand a loos­en­ing of restric­tions on cross-bor­der data flow, an end to cur­ren­cy manip­u­la­tion and rules for com­pe­ti­tion from state-owned enter­pris­es.

Busi­ness­es and busi­ness lob­by­ing groups lined up behind the bill as fast as lib­er­al groups and unions arrayed in oppo­si­tion. “With facts and argu­ments, we’ll win this trade debate and renew T.P.A.,” vowed Thomas J. Dono­hue, pres­i­dent of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce.

It all made for a dizzy­ing change of tone in a Wash­ing­ton where par­ti­san lines have hard­ened. Repub­li­can lead­er­ship fell firm­ly behind T.P.A. Busi­ness groups bat­tling the pres­i­dent on cli­mate change, tax­es and health care urged Con­gress to expand his trade pow­ers.

But a siz­able minor­i­ty of Repub­li­cans — espe­cial­ly in the House — are reluc­tant to give the pres­i­dent author­i­ty to do any­thing sub­stan­tive. Whether Repub­li­can lead­ers can get their troops in line, and how Mr. Oba­ma can round up enough Demo­c­ra­t­ic votes, might be the biggest leg­isla­tive ques­tion of the year.

Mr. Reichert, the Repub­li­can law­mak­er, said 20 or few­er Democ­rats cur­rent­ly sup­port the mea­sure in the House; last year, House Speak­er John A. Boehn­er of Ohio said he would need 50.

Sen­a­tor Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-rank­ing Demo­c­rat, said he will demand the inclu­sion of leg­is­la­tion to com­bat the manip­u­la­tion of cur­ren­cy val­ues, espe­cial­ly by Chi­na. “Chi­na is the most rapa­cious of our trad­ing part­ners, and the stat­ed goal of this deal is to lure these oth­er coun­tries away from Chi­na,” Mr. Schumer said. “It’s not at all con­tra­dic­to­ry to final­ly do some­thing with China’s awful trade prac­tices.”

Mr. Brown said the nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives must be turned into sol­id require­ments. “I don’t think nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives with­out more enforce­ment mech­a­nisms get you very far,” he said. “Nego­ti­at­ing objec­tives are, ‘Hey U.S.T.R., try to get this,’ and they’ll say, ‘We tried.’ We need some­thing bet­ter than that.”

Oth­ers appeared dead set against the accord.

Over and over again we’ve been told that trade deals will cre­ate jobs and bet­ter pro­tect work­ers and the envi­ron­ment,” said Sen­a­tor Bob Casey, Demo­c­rat of Penn­syl­va­nia. “Those promis­es have nev­er come to fruition.”