Saturday, 25 April 2015 00:00

GOP confident on fast-track votes

Written by Adam Behsudi | Politico
Democrats at Press Conference Opposing Fast Track Democrats at Press Conference Opposing Fast Track

Republicans in both chambers are increasingly confident that they have the votes to pass the linchpin legislation President Barack Obama needs to enact his trade agenda.



“In fact, we do have the votes to pass the bill,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions told POLITICO this week. His remarks on Wednesday came before the Senate Finance Committee approved a trade promotion authority bill 20-6 with seven of 12 Democrats voting “yes,” meaning the Senate will have a filibuster-proof majority in favor of the bill, barring any Republican defections.

The latest indication of the GOP’s dominance on the issue: Rep. Paul Ryan snubbed Sander Levin’s alternative to his “fast-track” trade bill during the Ways and Means Committee markup of the legislation Thursday.

Asked about Ryan’s move shortly afterward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at a press conference: “If they have 218 Republican votes, I don’t think they’ll pay too much attention to many of our concerns. I don’t know that they have that.”

While it’s possible amendments could muddy the path of the legislation, all signs are now pointing to passage. When Ryan, who chairs the committee, decided not to vote on the ranking Democrat’s substitute proposal, he rejected not only Levin’s measure, but also the potential backing of Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who strongly support the alternative. The Wisconsin Republican’s action shows that the GOP leadership may view Pelosi’s search for “a path to yes” on the bill as little more than a pointless detour.

“That doesn’t seem like a good intention of trying to find a way to come together,” she said of Ryan’s action, dismissing the legislation as a “pothole” of a bill. Later in the evening, the panel backed the measure 25-13, with only two Democrats voting in favor.

Earlier in the day, Levin bristled in his low-key way when he learned his amendment wouldn’t even get a vote.

“I think you’ll be sorry if you do this,” the soft-spoken lawmaker told his Republican colleague.

“I don’t think the American public will accept this,” he added. “I hope Congress won’t. I hope the administration won’t.”

But Ryan’s bold maneuver looks backed by the numbers. Sessions told POLITICO in no uncertain terms that the fast-track measure has enough support in the House to pass, signaling that the far right’s opposition to handing Obama the trade authority isn’t too worrisome.

“Paul Ryan, myself and Pat Tiberi have spent an exceptional amount of time, and we dissected with the division of labor who was responsible for what activities to ensure the passage,” the Texas Republican said, explaining that they are gearing up for a major whip operation.

Henry Cuellar, the sole House Democrat to co-sponsor the fast-track bill, also said Wednesday that the White House wasn’t doing enough to get a hard vote count.

“What I’ve been telling the White House is, we need to have better coordination on this,” the Texan said in an interview.

The Obama administration is said to be targeting 10-15 undecided House Democrats on top of the 13 expected to the support the fast-track bill. A majority of the 246 Republicans in the House are likely to back the legislation, but they will need some Democrats to counter “no” votes from right-wing Republicans ideologically opposed to giving Obama the authority.

House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference Thursday that the fast-track bill was a heavy lift, “but I’m confident that we’ll get it done.”

”We’ll do our part, but the president must do his part, as well,” the Ohio Republican added.

The round rejection of Levin’s alternative measure is likely to pour fuel on the Democrats’ insurgency against the president’s trade agenda, which includes negotiations on two massive trade deals with 11 other Asia-Pacific countries and the 28-nation European Union.

A White House spokesperson said Obama “will continue to push for the passage of bipartisan TPA legislation” despite House Democratic leadership’s siding with Levin’s proposal.

“Congressman Levin has a number of thoughtful suggestions, many of which the administration is working to negotiate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Levin has long stood out as his party’s common-sense voice on trade and voted for agreements with South Korea and Panama in 2011. But he has fought hard to improve the free-trade model by pushing for stronger labor and environment provisions. The Michigan Democrat often touts his negotiations with Peruvian officials at their embassy in Washington to include environmental and labor rules in a bilateral deal with the South American country because George W. Bush’s White House refused to do so.

But the 17-term congressman has made a point to stay out of the development of the fast-track legislation, which helps the White House negotiate deals because it gives other nations the assurance that concessions wont be undone in Congress.

Instead, Levin has focused on trying to resolve the outstanding issues in the Asia-Pacific talks, which the White House is close to wrapping up. His bill would require the administration to address some of those problem areas and allow Congress to certify the objectives have been met before the White House can submit the agreement for fast-track treatment as an unamendable deal subject to an up-or-down vote.

“Unfortunately, the negotiations are not on the right track,” Levin said at the markup. “In some areas, we don’t know where [the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative] is headed, and in others we don’t like where they are.”

Ryan ruled Levin’s amendment was not germane because it would change fast-track trade procedures under the jurisdiction of the Rules Committee, and that language wasn’t cleared by the panel like Ryan’s had been.

Infringing on one committee’s jurisdiction would only embolden other panels to “infiltrate” Ways and Means’, he said.

Link to original article from Politico

 
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