Will Obama’s legacy trade deal fail today at the hands of his own party? – Los Angeles Times

The House is poised to vote Friday on a a bitterly divisive measure that would give President Obama more authority to speed up passage of trade agreements and secure a key part of his legacy.

Despite vehement opposition from Democratic lawmakers, a flurry of last-minute back-room maneuvering and heavy White House lobbying, the vote was expected to be close, either handing Obama one of his biggest legislative victories or delivering a stinging setback, mostly at the hands of his own party.

The president has said the so-called fast-track authority is vital to his administration’s push to complete a landmark free-trade accord with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

The Senate approved the legislation last month.

The measure will give the Obama administration the ability to wrap up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal years in the making, and present a final agreement to Congress for expedited consideration and an up-or-down vote with no amendments.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be one of the world’s largest and most ambitious trade efforts ever, aimed at removing barriers and establishing rules on investment and commerce affecting 40% of the global economy. The proposed pact contains multiple sections that include provisions on labor, intellectual property, cross-border data flows and state-owned enterprises.

Although Friday’s Senate vote won’t guarantee that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be ratified, failure to pass fast-track authority would almost certainly kill the deal.

Obama’s trade agenda places him in an unusual alliance with congressional Republicans, who are traditionally pro-free trade. But some in the GOP are loathe to boost the president’s authority or help him win a legislative trophy.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, face the uncomfortable choice of voting against their president or for a bill that at most has tepid support from ordinary constituents and is fiercely opposed by various consumer groups and organized labor. Union leaders, fearing a trade deal will send more American jobs overseas, have threatened to cut off election campaign help for lawmakers who support the measure.

In securing fast-track authority, congressional Republicans need to overcome an unexpected, last-minute obstacle involving worker retraining funds.

Fast-track authority passed 62-37 in the Senate last month after GOP leaders placated Democratic members by coupling it with a measure to extend funding for retraining of American workers hurt by foreign competition, a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance.

But House Democrats balked at a plan to pay for worker training with what they viewed as cuts from Medicare. House GOP leaders responded by splitting the measure into two bills, one for fast-track and another for the retraining funds. Both must pass Friday in order to send the measure to the president.





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