White House Expects Pacific Trade Pact This Year
The Barack Obama administration is optimistic it can secure a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal by the end of the year, although any legislative approval will have to await the next Congress,
Trade negotiators report steady progress on the issues, especially the key deliberations with the Japanese, although the final pieces probably won't be concluded until shortly before the November elections, if then. The politics of trade are upside down: It's the one issue in a deeply partisan Washington where success rests with a Democratic president and Congressional Republicans. The Democratic congressional leadership doesn't want to bring up the trade deal even if it is ready before the November midterms.
The White House calculates that in the Republican-controlled House, there are 193 members who consistently vote for trade deals, the vast majority Republicans. Another 59 are usually on the fence; 89, mainly Democrats, are consistently against; and there are 91 new members. By any measurement, Democrats are likely to oppose a trade deal by a two-to-one margin.
In all likelihood, the breakdown in the next House will be similar -- or more Republican, if anything.
The dynamic is much the same in the Senate, where Republicans would have to supply most of the 60 votes necessary for passage. The best bet is that after the November election, the Democrats either will hold a smaller majority in the Senate, or Republicans will take control, barely.
If the Democrats do retain control, a pact would start in the relatively trade-friendly Senate Finance Committee, where more than half of the 13 Democrats, including chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon, would be expected to support it.
There is a small possibility, the administration figures, that a lame duck Congress could pass so-called fast track authority, which means any trade deal would have to be approved or rejected on an up or down vote with no amendments. But some aren't so sure that really would make make it easier to negotiate a trans-Pacific agreement.
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