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Obama, Republicans try to revive trade agenda

Barack Obama

Washington: President Barack Obama and his legislative allies scrambled for ways to revive his severely wounded trade agenda, although Democrats and Republicans alike said all options face serious hurdles.

Obama talked yesterday with House Speaker John Boehner. And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke with Republican Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader whose rejection of Obama’s pleas capped Friday’s stunning setback delivered mainly by his own party.

The congressional impasse jeopardizes hopes to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that the United States and 11 other nations have been negotiating for years.

Key lawmakers and aides said significant political and legislative challenges complicate the “many different options” cited by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

House Republican leaders sought to give themselves more time, seeking a new deadline of July 30 for the legislation.

The House was slated to vote on an extension today.

The situation deeply frustrates Obama’s supporters on trade, because in some ways, success seems almost within reach.

The House on Friday narrowly approved the key component of the president’s trade agenda: granting him “fast track” authority to negotiate agreements that Congress can reject or ratify, but not change.

That would make it easier to win congressional approval of the TPP or other trade agreements.

And there’s reason to believe the House would approve the legislative package’s other main element renewal of an aid program for workers displaced by international trade if it were decided on a stand-alone vote.

Democrats overwhelmingly support it, and it costs so little that that numerous Republican consider it a reasonable price to get fast track.

But three legislative realities are thwarting any easy solution: The Senate combined the two elements into one bill, which it sent to the House after a bruising, lengthy battle.

“It turned out that House Democrats opposed fast track so strenuously, they were willing to sacrifice the displaced workers’ aid to scuttle the whole package”.

The administration and others are loath to start over and give the Senate another crack at dragging out, and possibly killing, the entire trade package.

The original strategy assumed a left-right combination would ratify the Senate-passed legislation. Nearly all House Democrats would support the worker aid program, joined by enough Republicans for a majority, the thinking went.

Then, a big majority of House Republicans, and just enough Democrats, would approve the fast track portion.

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