WASHINGTON -- Republicans appear poised to bring up controversial legislation as early as Friday to hand over fast-track authority on trade deals to President Barack Obama, but it’s unclear if the votes are even there.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that Republicans don’t expect it to be an easy lift to get the votes necessary to give Obama expedited powers to speed through Congress trade deals like the one he is currently negotiating with 11 Pacific nations.
“But Republicans are continuing to work and we are seeing some positive momentum in the right direction,” Boehner told reporters.
Boehner met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Tuesday night to discuss remaining conflicts between their two parties over a trade adjustment assistance bill, which helps domestic workers displaced by trade deals. Democrats didn’t want to cut Medicare to pay for part of that assistance.
Boehner said the two leaders reached an agreement on an alternative to pay for the trade assistance legislation.
“In terms of fixing the Medicare offset, we worked together to come up with an alternative, and we did. But how we are going to consider this -- the process for considering the four different votes -- is still up in the air,” Boehner said, referring to other trade-related bills.
Boehner said Republicans plan to attach the fix for trade assistance to a different trade bill, not the trade adjustment assistance bill itself, but Democrats aren’t happy about that.
“Pelosi and Boehner negotiated the new offsets but there are serious procedural problems,” a senior Democratic aide told The Huffington Post. “She told Boehner she would take procedural issue to her members. Members were not happy with the prospect of having to carry a [trade adjustment assistance] vote for Medicare cuts with the fix on a separate vehicle with no guarantee of enactment.”
When pressed on Democrats’ concerns, Boehner quipped, “If people are looking for an excuse to vote no then I guess they can always find an excuse to vote no.”
The split between the two leaders is sure to only complicate matters as Republicans attempt to find the needed 217 votes to pass fast-track trade authority for Obama.
It is unclear how many Democrats will split with the majority of their party and back the president. Congress has been embroiled in a debate on trade over the last month, leaving Democrats in a tough spot as they weigh helping out their president against sticking to their guns on an issue they have long opposed.
Within the Republican party there is also a significant conservative faction that does not want to be seen doing Obama any favors, and opposes trade, creating a headache for leadership.
“We are working with both sides to get this done and as soon as we have the votes we’ll be moving the bill,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Wednesday.
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