Conservative Republicans are pressing House GOP leaders for a package of concessions on a fast-track trade bill they say would deliver roughly two dozen key votes – but that critics argue are designed to sink the bill.
[Reposted from Politico | Lauren French | June 3, 3015]
Top members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have been negotiating with the GOP leadership team for two weeks over changes to a bill that would give President Barack Obama authority to expedite free trade deals. They have three demands: That the charter for the federal Export-Import Bank, which is set to expire at the end of the month, is debated on its own and not attached to other legislation; that rank-and-file lawmakers are given more power to reject future trade deals; and that aid for workers displaced by free trade be voted on separately from the trade legislation.
The head of the Freedom Caucus, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, said 18 to 23 Republicans who are currently undecided would vote “yes” if leadership agrees. With the vote on the trade promotion authority bill is expected to be very close, that could be the difference between passage or failure.
Changes are unlikely at this point as GOP leaders have consistently said they won’t allow amendments to the trade bill. A GOP leadership aide said the proposals are “designed to kill TPA and that is unacceptable.”
A vote is expected in the next two weeks.
“People might say we’re asking for too much, but these are just common sense ideas consistent with Republican ideals,” Jordan said.
The Obama administration and Republican House leaders are working aggressively to round up votes to put the measure — which would give the president authority to reach trade agreements that Congress could accept or reject, but not amend — over the top.
Trade has long been a Republican priority so the vote is putting many conservatives in a tough spot: they don’t trust Obama to live up to the promises the White House has made ahead of the sprawling, Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and they are worried that their own leaders could use the critical trade vote to extend other government programs that they oppose.
“We are trying to find a way to support trade because most of us are free-traders but do it in a conservative way,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, said. The trade proposals are not officially coming from the conservative caucus, as some members are already in favor of the trade deal.
Conservatives decry the Export-Import bank as “crony capitalism” and are fighting for the bank to be shut down. While seemingly unrelated to the fast track bill, reports surfaced after the Senate voted to approve the trade promotion authority legislation that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a future vote on Ex-Im to secure badly needed votes.
Conservatives say that is unacceptable and want an assurance that the House won’t make an end run around Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who is staunchly opposed to the bank.
Boehner has said in the past that he is committed to allow Hensarling (R-Texas) to debate the issue through the normal House order. And Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is opposed to extending the Export-Import Bank’s charter, told reporters in April that GOP leadership is committed to regular order.
But conservatives want a more explicit promise that a reauthorization of the bank won’t be attached to a must-pass bill.
The proposals are part of an evolving strategy from House conservatives to first work with leadership to push legislation rightward before voting against measures that come to the House floor. They believe Boehner, McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise still don’t have the votes to pass the trade bill and that the GOP leaders need their own caucus to secure the needed votes.
The stakes could hardly be higher for GOP leaders and the White House. Republicans are optimistic that 190 of their lawmakers will support fast-track authority, meaning 27 Democrats would be needed for the proposal to pass.
Eighteen Democrats are on record in favor of the trade deal, and congressional sources who are closely following the negotiations believe there are another dozen swing votes in that caucus. But the lines could always move and conservatives said they wanted to preemptively offer their leaders another option to secure a majority.
The negotiations are largely between Jordan and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), both high-profile members of the Freedom Caucus, and North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chief deputy whip for Republicans. Conservatives have long viewed McHenry as their closest ally in the GOP leadership team.
“If they are short on the votes and they need to get them, and if leadership could agree to address the issues [from conservatives], then we can deliver between 15 and 25 votes,” Mulvaney said. Other House conservatives pegged the range at 18 to 23 votes. “If they need those votes, then our door is open.”