WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders, who have been working closely with President Obama all week to secure the votes to bring the presidential Trade Promotion Authority legislation to the floor, said Thursday they do not yet have enough votes but are getting close.
“We had a very good week. We’re not quite there yet,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) at a briefing in his office in the Capitol building. “We’re picking up votes every day,” he said noting that leaders had just picked up a few additional “yes” votes on Thursday. “The undecided are falling in the right way so we are getting in striking distance.”
Ryan said leadership’s goal is not to bring TPA to the floor for debate and a vote until they know they have the votes to pass it.
It has been nearly two weeks since the Senate passed TPA, which allows Congress to set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but also limits lawmakers to an up or down vote on trade deals. This is seen as vital to completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Vietnam, the U.S.’ second largest apparel supplier, because it allows foreign governments to make their best offers knowing Congress cannot tear apart a final deal.
The path forward in the House has always been expected to be difficult but Ryan and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.,Ohio) have both said this week they remain optimistic that they can bring the TPA bill to the floor for a vote this month.
Ryan said Thursday that House leaders are deferring to Obama to bring more Democrats on board in support of TPA. A large group of antitrade Democrats in the House oppose TPA, arguing that U.S. workers have lost their jobs in the past because of trade agreements. Several conservative Republicans, particularly those in the Tea Party, are also said to be against TPA and giving Obama more executive authority.
“Two years ago we said we were going to need 50 Democrats to get this done,” Ryan said. “We won’t need that now. But we’re still going to need the president to deliver votes, and more than they have right now. But candidly I have never been as confident about it as I am right now. I felt like we had a very good week.”
Ryan expects two other trade measures passed by the Senate and that are important to the fashion industry to go to conference after passing the House.
One would extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act for a decade, renew the Generalized System of Preference program that expired in July 2013 and extend trade benefits in the HOPE and HELP programs for products from Haiti through September 2025.
Industry groups were hoping the trade preference bill would not have to go to conference. They sent a letter Wednesday to Ryan and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin (D. Mich.), asking them to take a straight vote on the preferences bill the Senate passed.
“Our associations represent thousands of companies and millions of U.S.-based employees who depend on the provisions in this legislation to support jobs, reduce costs and remain competitive in today’s global economy,” the groups said. “Swift action on this measure will help ensure that our members are able to continue to support U.S. trade-based jobs and global partnerships.”
But Ryan said he expects the bill to go to a “simple conference” to take care of what he said were “technical issues” on how to pay for the duty reductions.
A separate customs and trade enforcement bill may take a little more time in conference, but Ryan said lawmakers have narrowed their differences and are in agreement on about “85 percent of the bill.” But the controversial currency manipulation provisions in that bill could pose a hurdle in conference.
Ryan also addressed another issue that has implications for the industry and is percolating in Congress — the expiration of the charter for the government-backed Export-Import Bank, which helps finance U.S. exports and expires on June 30.
Several small textile companies benefit from the bank, which provides funding mechanisms to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods, as well as a working capital guarantee program.
Many conservatives in the House are aiming to shut down the bank, arguing it favors large corporations and finances questionable projects. But Boehner has reportedly said he would allow a vote on the Export-Import Bank if the Senate passes an extension.
Ryan, an opponent of the bank, told reporters the House will not include any language to extend the bank’s authority in the pending trade bills and anticipates the clock will run out on the bank and its authority will not be renewed.