Pelosi Links Passage Of Highway Bill To Progress On Trade Package

June 16, 2015 at 16:17

Posted June 12

Hours after House Democrats blocked a trade package that includes fast-track negotiating authority, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signaled in a letter to her Democratic colleagues that she is willing to smooth the way for the package if the House passes legislation to fund highway improvements.

In the brief letter, Pelosi also called for Republicans and Democrats to sit down and negotiate a better fast-track bill that would reflect an alternative proposal floated by House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI). “The prospects for passage of a such a bill will greatly increase with the passage of a robust highway bill,” Pelosi wrote in the letter.

A congressional aide said Pelosi likely knows there is little chance that Republicans and the Obama administration would agree to a modified fast-track bill, and is merely calling for such a bill as a way to back up Levin.

Two sources close to Democrats speculated that Pelosi may be primarily signaling she would help President Obama secure sufficient Democratic votes for renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) if she can get some progress on the highway bill. However, her letter does not specifically mention TAA.

The House voted down TAA 126-302 after Pelosi announced she was voting “no” in a bid to slow down the fast-track legislation, citing complaints it was rushed through without a chance for House Democrats to shape it. Fast track is combined with TAA in the bill, and voting down the retraining program had the effect of stalling both.

One TPA supporter said it is unclear whether Pelosi’s strategy of linking progress on trade to the highway bill is just another “stalling tactic” because she does not want the trade package to pass, or whether she is actually trying to get a real concession from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on the highway bill.

This source noted that debate over the highway bill has been deadlocked for months since Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on any of the potential funding mechanisms, which range from raising the gas tax to taxing profits earned by U.S. companies abroad. He said it would take a long time to resolve that issue, which could delay the trade package if Pelosi maintains that linkage.

But he also held open the possibility that Pelosi might settle for a commitment by Boehner merely to bring up a highway bill at a specified date. That would be similar to the commitment extracted by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and other senators, who leveraged their procedural vote for fast track to secure a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a floor vote on reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank in June.

Pelosi was not the only member of the House Democratic leadership to link passage of the highway bill to the trade package; House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did so in a June 12 statement reacting to the trade votes.

“While I believe that future trade agreements ought to be judged individually, when we consider Trade Promotion Authority we also need to take the steps necessary to make sure our economy is providing our workers with the tools they need to maximize the benefits from trade agreements,” Hoyer said.

“Our workers deserve policies that boost our competitiveness and place us at an advantage in global markets, making it easier for them to get ahead. They deserve a multi-year extension of the Export-Import Bank’s charter authority and a long-term reauthorization of the highway bill, both of which would help businesses access new markets and move goods to those markets more efficiently,” he added.

In her letter, Pelosi laid out her requirements for a stronger fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

“We look forward to working in a bipartisan way for a trade promotion authority bill that has better transparency, more consultation with Congress and stronger protections for Congressional priorities — especially labor rights and the environment,” she said. “Such a proposal was put forward by our Ranking Member Sandy Levin in committee, but was denied the respect of even being allowed a vote.”

“Looking forward, it is important we come together to achieve the best possible trade agenda to promote growth, create jobs and increase the paychecks of American workers. Thank you for your leadership on behalf of the American people,” she said.

The alternative TPA bill proposed by Levin would lay out negotiating “instructions,” not objectives, on 12 major outstanding issues in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Those instructions cover currency manipulation, labor rights, environment, investor-state dispute settlement, access to medicines, automotive market access, rules of origin, tobacco controls, state-owned enterprises, agricultural market access, food safety and human rights.

The proposal would also add more consultation requirements for the administration to meet, and make it easier for either of the congressional trade committees to strip a trade agreement of fast-track protection.


Source: WTO Newsstand

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