White House trying to save controversial trade package on eve of vote

The House is set to vote Friday on President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership and a federal program that aids American workers displaced by outsourced jobs.
By Doug G. Ware  |  June 11, 2015 at 9:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 11 (UPI) -- On the eve of a critical congressional vote that will make or break President Barack Obama's centric Pacific trade package, administration officials reportedly worked hard Thursday to round up as much support for the deal as possible.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is intended to spur new trade and investment among the United States and 11 nations on the Pacific Rim -- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Most Republicans support the deal, but many Democrats and labor unions do not -- afraid that it would send more American jobs overseas and harm the national economy. In fact, those opposed are so vehemently against the legislation that they appear to be willing to sacrifice their own federal labor assistance program to derail it.

The federally funded Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides training and financial assistance to American workers who have been displaced by the outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas.

The fate of the program is scheduled for a House vote Friday. Thursday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka urged Democrats to reject it. That, opponents believe, is the best way to scuttle the TPP.

Obama dispatched aides Thursday to try and round up last-minute support for both issues, and called some reluctant Democrats himself from the Oval Office, POLITICO reported.

Some of those who oppose the legislation reportedly want Obama to use leverage he has with Republicans on this issue to soften the deal and make it more acceptable to Democrats.

"You're telling us we've got to facilitate your deal on this TAA -- which is not a very good package -- and the president can't do anything," Rep. Peter DiFazio, D-Ore., said in POLITICO's report. "I said, 'That's bull (expletive).' And it is."

The Senate last month voted to give Obama "fast track" authority with the TPP, which will allow the president to negotiate future trade deals and limit Congress's ability to change them -- an effective perk that several previous presidents have had. If the TAA program doesn't pass Friday, though, several Democrats will pull their support for TPP and the entire deal will fall apart.

Friday's vote on both measures is expected to be very close. A vote Thursday, allowing the issues to move forward, barely passed by a vote of 217-212.

"We need to treat this moment for what it is: a life or death moment for TAA," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reportedly said during Thursday's closed-door meeting.

However, it will not be known until after Friday's vote whether the White House's last-minute stumping did enough good to push the trade package through.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Obama's home state of Illinois, said Thursday that it would be "a mistake" for the president's trade deal to be approved -- even though she supported it when it was first proposed, CNN's report said.

Although most Republicans support the TPP, a few have expressed concern that Obama might try to piggyback other administration priorities onto the package -- such as additional powers on immigration and climate change. Wednesday, they added provisions to the deal to negate any possibility of that happening.

One of the reasons some Democrats oppose the TPP, they say, is because it draws money from Medicare to pay for it.

But administration officials cautioned House Democrats against defeating the TAA, saying that would only end up killing a program Democrats have praised for years -- and rob Americans of a valuable employment resource.

"If you're a member of Congress and you vote against Trade Adjustment Assistance this week, you are adding your name to the death certificate of Trade Adjustment Assistance because it will go away," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. "And that is a source of significant concern to the president."

"This is a new level of political cynicism from hard-core trade opponents," another administration official, who did not want to be identified, said. "It's scary that they'd be willing to take TAA down, potentially for good, just to kill [fast-track]."

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