WASHINGTON — The top Republican in the US Senate said Tuesday he would seek to give President Barack Obama broad powers to negotiate new trade deals, warning the United States is falling behind in global commerce.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would seek to attach so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expired in 2007, to a wider measure giving duty-free access to US markets for developing world goods.
“With 14 million Americans out of work and thousands of Americans looking for opportunities to sell American-made goods around the world, we can’t afford to wait,” said McConnell.
Trade Promotion Authority, previously known as “fast track,” enables the US president to negotiate a trade deal then submit it for approval by the US Congress in a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments.
Obama has not sought TPA, and has held off submitting free trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea until the congress approves Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) — aid for workers displaced by overseas competition.
“Without TPA, the US will likely never agree to another deal again. The unions will make sure of it,” charged McConnell. “We can’t miss more opportunities to compete in foreign markets with US-made products.”
The effort from McConnell, who has said Republicans’ top goal is defeating Obama in the November 2012 election, was expected to lack the votes to pass but could aid Republicans as they try to paint the president as anti-business.
The Colombia accord stalled over US concerns about deadly violence against labor activists there, the Panama agreement faced hurdles tied to alleged money laundering, and worries about opening South Korea’s automobile market held up that pact.
Trade officials say those issues are mostly resolved, and the White House has said it will submit the accords once the worker aid clears the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-held House of Representatives.
A White House official, who requested anonymity, said the three deals already enjoy fast-track protection and that McConnell’s move would “slow them down with what could be a protracted TPA debate.”
“At an appropriate time, President Obama will seek to work with Congress to make sure that the administration has the necessary tools to move forward on future trade agreements that are jobs-focused and beneficial to the American people,” said the official.
The US Congress is moving forward with legislation to enact Trade Adjustment Assistance, which would clear the way for Obama to submit all three deals for approval.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed the White House warning.
“My Republican colleagues are the ones who want the trade bills more than we do, so it should be up to them to give a little wind behind this and get the trade adjustment passed,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s no trade bill.”
“I’m not going to be worrying about whether this gets off the floor this afternoon or tomorrow morning. It’s up to the Republicans,” he said.