Senior lawmakers reached agreement Thursday on a bipartisan trade promotion authority bill that has already ignited a fierce fight between President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Two Republicans — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan — negotiated for months on the “fast track” trade legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has faced intense pressure from labor and progressive groups to walk away from the talks.
Obama needs the legislation to finish negotiations on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Japan and 10 other countries, a trade deal that would be the largest ever for the United States and mark a signature achievement for the administration.
The White House faces a particularly tough battle in the House, but is under pressure to show movement on the legislation before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington at the end of this month. Hatch said earlier today he hopes to move quickly in the Senate. The House could also advance the legislation s0on.
Proponents say trade promotion authority is essential to negotiating good trade agreements because it gives other countries some assurance that lawmakers won’t pick the deal apart during congressional debate. Opponents say it is undemocratic and allows negotiators to insert provisions in trade deals that wouldn’t pass muster on their own.
The decades-old Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help retrain workers displace by trade emerged as a final obstacle in talks on the TPA bill. Many Republicans question the value of the program, but it often moves in conjunction with trade agreements to bolster Democratic support for the deals.
Those talks appeared to be mainly between Wyden and Ryan, who is said to be pushing for a lower level of funding than union groups feel is needed to run an adequate program. Hatch, Wyden and Ryan did not release details of the TAA deal. However, the bill is expected to move separately from TPA so Republicans can vote against it.
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