Lawmakers Approve Bill To Help Finalize Asia-Pacific Trade Deal

Lawmakers Approve Bill To Help Finalize Asia-Pacific Trade Deal

10:05pm Apr 17, 2015

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We start this hour with President Obama's push for a big Asia-Pacific trade deal. It got a boost this week. Top lawmakers agreed on a plan that would allow the president to finalize the agreement then present it to Congress for an up or down vote. But he still has an uphill battle when it comes to selling the trade pact to his fellow Democrats. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The 12-country trade deal is one of the cornerstones of both the president's economic agenda and his push to boost U.S. influence in Asia. At a White House news conference today, Obama noted Asia is home to many of the world's fastest-growing markets. He warned, if the U.S. doesn't step up to establish trading rules in the area, China will.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We cannot stop a - the - a global economy at our shores. We've got to be in there and compete.

HORSLEY: This week, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee agreed on a bill designed to fast-track the trade agreement. But many of the president's traditional supporters are not happy about it.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) No fast track. No fast track.

HORSLEY: Union leaders and environmentalists held a rally near the Capitol this week to show their opposition to the trade deal. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, joined other liberal critics who say they've been burned by past trade agreements and they're not buying the president's claims about the economic benefits of this one.


SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: They told us NAFTA was going to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. NAFTA cost us jobs.

HORSLEY: Obama himself was critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement during his first run for the White House. But the president insists he and his negotiators have learned a lesson from that deal's shortcomings, and they're building more protections into the Asia-Pacific trade pact.


OBAMA: My whole presidency has been about helping working families and lifting up wages and giving workers more opportunity. And if I didn't think this deal was doing it, I wouldn't do it.

HORSLEY: Republican leaders in Congress support the trade deal and the fast-track bill designed to help it along. But House Speaker John Boehner told the Fox Business Network it's up to the president to sell that bill, formerly known as trade promotion authority, to members of his own party.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: I've asked the president and asked the president to reach out because we're going to need Democrats to pass trade promotion authority.

HORSLEY: Political analyst Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College agrees the fast-track bill will need to win at least some Democratic support in order to pass. That's because even though Republicans hold the majority in both the House and Senate, not all Republican lawmakers will go along.

JACK PITNEY: There are certain Republicans in the House right now who don't want to give anything to president Obama because they oppose him politically. In addition to that, you have some protection of straying in the Republican Party, and that's coming out here.

HORSLEY: To overcome that opposition, Obama will have to assemble an uneasy coalition of business from the Republicans and Democrats. Pitney recalls former President Bill Clinton faced much the same challenge in passing NAFTA more than 20 years ago.

PITNEY: Bill Clinton owed one of his major accomplishments in that case to the then-House Republican whip, Newt Gingrich.

HORSLEY: The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote next week on whether to grant the president fast-track negotiating authority. While the Asia-Pacific pact would be the first that Congress considers under that plan, White House negotiators have also been busy on a trade deal spanning the Atlantic. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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