Obama may get ‘fast track’ authority on trade agreements

But at a hearing of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, it was the GOP, not Democrats, who roundly supported giving Obama more authority.

Specifically, they seek to give Obama trade promotion authority – also known as “fast track” authority– that will allow him to send proposed trade agreements to Congress for a simple up or down vote, with no amendments. Past presidents beginning with Richard Nixon have been able to use such authority; the last agreement expired in 2007.

Columbus-area Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp., chair of the committee’s subcommittee on trade, is among supporters of such authority, saying such authority would make it easier for the U.S. to export to other countries.

“We have a number of major negotiations ongoing right now and I for one want to make sure you and your team have all the tools necessary to show our trading partners that there is a strong partnership between this administration and this Congress,” he told U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Tiberi argues that the agreement would give Congress “ample” opportunity to be engaged in the negotiating process while still making it easier to pass such agreements.

Tiberi joins Republicans including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a former U.S. Trade Representative in wanting to give Obama such authority.

“Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside the U.S.,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee. “I believe Americans can compete with anybody if given a chance….the fact is if we don’t write the rules of the global economy, other countries will.”

But Democrats – including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have concerns, saying past agreements have ultimately hurt American workers and manufacturers. Brown, for example, has called for “a new framework” for congressional-president cooperation on such trade agreements.

They argue that trade authority in the past has expedited trade deals that have done more harm than good, and that Congress must have full authority to weigh in before passing such deals.

“Congress must not give up its leverage,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House and Ways Committee.

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