Obama trade agenda faces tough odds


By Jim Kuhnhenn and Charles Babington ,AP

WASHINGTON — After several near death experiences in the Senate, the trade agenda that President Barack Obama is pushing as a second term capstone faces its biggest hurdle yet in the more polarized House of Representatives.

Anti-trade forces have struggled to ignite public outrage over Obama’s bid to enact new free-trade agreements. Democratic opposition in Congress to such trade deals remains widespread.

The outcome may turn on Republicans’ willingness to hand the president a major win in his final years in office. Underscoring the difficulties, House leaders are looking at the second or third week of June to schedule a vote, even though House members return from a holiday recess on Monday.

��The business of bill passing is a messy, sausage-making process. It was in the Senate, and it certainly will be in the House,�� White House communications director Jen Psaki said in an interview. ��There will be many moments where there will be difficult issues. We have our eyes wide open with that.��

At issue is legislation that would give Obama parameters for the trade deals he negotiates but also speed up congressional review of the final agreements by giving lawmakers the right to approve or reject deals, but not change them.

‘Fast track’ Obama is seeking this ��fast track�� authority to complete a 12-nation Trans-Pacific trade deal that spans the Pacific rim from Chile to Vietnam. He and trade backers say it will open huge markets to U.S. goods by lowering tariffs and other trade barriers. Critics, labor and environmental groups in particular, argue that new trade agreements will cost jobs and that past agreements have not lived up to labor and environmental standards.

Supporters and opponents of fast track count about 20 House Democrats in favor with fewer than a dozen still on the fence. Proponents of the bill say they need at least 25 Democrats and preferably closer to 30 to counter the 40 to 50 Republicans who are expected to vote against it in the Republican-controlled House.

The fast-track legislation squeezed through the Senate, coupled with a package of federal assistance for workers displaced by free trade agreements that helped secure Democratic votes. That aid measure, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, has emerged as a particularly tricky component because it’s a priority for Democrats, but many Republicans oppose it and insist on publicly voting against it.