Policy: Economy

Congressional deal reached on Obama trade-negotiating powers

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Politics,White House,Congress,Economy,Dave Camp,Bloomberg News

Congressional leaders who oversee trade policy introduced legislation Thursday that would give President Obama the fast-track authority he is seeking to negotiate agreements.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan joined leaders of the Senate Finance Committee to offer their version of the legislation on so-called trade-promotion authority, which subjects trade deals to an up-or-down vote by Congress.

“The TPA legislation we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right,” Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, said today in a statement. “This is our opportunity to tell the administration -- and our trading partners -- what Congress’s negotiating priorities are.”

The Obama administration is seeking trade-promotion authority to smooth congressional passage of trade deals, including accords with a group of 11 Pacific region nations and the 28-nation European Union. Those pacts, to create the world’s largest free-trade zones, would link regions with about $44 trillion in annual economic output. The U.S. is also negotiating a services-trade agreement with a group of nations that would cover about half of the world’s economy.

Levin’s Opposition

Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the House panel, said he’s working on a rival measure and will lead opposition to the Baucus-Camp bill.

“You have to have a very substantial increase in Congress’s involvement at all stages,” Levin told reporters today in his office in Washington. The measure introduced by his colleagues “falls far short” of what needs to be included, he said.

Baucus’s bill, co-sponsored by Republicans Camp and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, includes updates for labor and environmental protections, provisions to guard intellectual property against cyber theft, and a first-ever provision to prevent currency manipulation by trading partners, according to a fact sheet.

It also ensures that members of Congress have access to the negotiating texts and allows them to participate in the talks.

Levin said his bill will also include a currency- manipulation provision and another that would create a bi- partisan congressional panel that will weigh in on trade deals on an ongoing basis. He said the bill will also include goals on labor, the environment and access to medicines.

Obama Needed

Speaking at a Bloomberg Government breakfast today, Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois, a Republican member of the House panel said Obama needs to do more to lobby for trade- promotion authority.

“We need the president to come out and say he wants this. We need leadership from him,” Schock said, noting that the White House hasn’t endorsed the lawmakers’ plan.

Obama in a July 30 speech called for the authority, and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, two of his top deputies, have each urged Congress to pass the measure.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Obama provided “scant attention” on fast-track authority in seeking support from Democrats in Congress.

“I made clear to the president that this can’t pass unless there’s bipartisan support for it,” Boehner told reporters today at the Capitol.

Expired Authority

The trade authority, which expired in 2007, lets Congress set parameters for considering trade deals, and allows lawmakers to pass the accords without making amendments. Opponents have said they want more say in drafting deals, particularly with the Pacific agreement in its final stages of negotiation, before giving Obama fast-track authority.

Supporters of fast-track authority including a coalition of about 160 groups, led by organizations including the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers. The coalition -- whose members include Boeing Co., MetLife Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- has ramped up lobbying efforts in recent months.

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