Baucus Expects Fast Track Bills in Senate, House This Year

Baucus Expects Fast Track Bills in Senate, House This Year

House and Senate members are making progress on legislation granting the administration fast-track trade-promotion authority and hope to introduce legislation in the House before the end of the year, Sen. Max Baucus said Thursday.

“Chairman Camp and others will introduce a bill this year,” the Montana Democrat said, referring to House Ways and Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., after Baucus spoke to a group of American and Japanese business leaders assembled at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thursday. “I don’t know if we can get it marked up this year.”

Baucus had earlier set June as the deadline for introducing trade legislation. His new deadline may still be ambitious, however, unless President Barack Obama gets personally involved in the Hill negotiations, said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who chairs the trade subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee.

“You have people in this country who are going to be opposed to it, no matter what,” said Nunes, who also attended the Chamber event. “Most of those are with the president’s party and at some point the president is going to have to weigh in with those folks and get them off the dime and get them to move.”

Trade Promotion Authority, or fast-track authority, from Congress is a crucial step towards getting enactment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a broad trade deal covering a dozen countries in Asia and the Americas. American trade officials are close to hammering out a deal with their foreign counterparts and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has been lobbying governments on TPP during an Asia trip this week.

But passage through Congress is increasingly looking like a much more difficult lift for the administration.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both chambers have expressed reservations about fast track authority this week, complicating the administration’s efforts. A group of 151 Democratic House members signed a letter asking for more input on worker, consumer and environmental protections. Some conservative Republicans say they will oppose fast-track authority because it gives up Congress’ constitutional authority. A bipartisan group of members also want the talks to include provisions barring currency manipulation.

If the Obama administration is concerned about the trade rhetoric on Capitol Hill, the White House isn’t showing it.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the discussion in Congress this week “reflects the fact that we are in an endgame.”

Froman sidestepped questions about specifics such as currency manipulation language in the TPP, but he said he was confident negotiators would wrap up their work before the end of the year and come up with a proposal that could get through Congress.

“I think the debate will be a good one,” he said. “Once TPP is done, we’ll be able to explain in some detail the benefits of it: job creation in every district across the country, for every sector of our economy, for every state of the union. That will help build support for it.”

Crafting legislation that will keep everybody happy won’t be easy. And the heavy agenda weighing down the House Ways and Means Committee will make it difficult to resolve the lawmakers’ concerns, Nunes said.

“We’re taking up so much time between tax reform and Obamacare, health care and the IRS scandal, and you understand why all of that has to take precedent,” he said. “I think we’re very close to an agreement. It’s just going to take the president weighing in with members of his own party.”

Despite the brewing opposition to the trade deal on Capitol Hill, Nunes said he thinks the Asia-Pacific deal could be a major accomplishment.

“This is the No. 1 issue that we can get done in a bipartisan way that would have a huge long-term positive impact on the global economy,” he said. “The longer we wait the harder it’s going to become.”

The opportunity to get it done “is not slipping away, but I am concerned about the president’s sinking popularity,” he said.