House votes to give leaders time for trade re-vote

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. House voted Tuesday to give the White House and congressional Republicans until as late as July 30 for re-vote of a key trade measure as the White House hunts for more support.

By a 236-189 vote, the House extended the deadline for a re-vote on job training after it was rejected Friday. Republican leaders spoke to President Barack Obama about finding a path forward, but haven’t found one yet.

The House on Friday overwhelming denied — with a 302-129 vote — an extension of job training assistance that the president had hoped would ease fears that American jobs could be lost under an Asia Pacific free trade deal. Without reauthorization, the job training program will end in September.

House Democrats overwhelmingly bucked the personal plea of President Barack Obama to extend job training assistance. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the vote was the only way to “slow down” the effort to give the Obama administration “fast track” authority that would allow for an up or down vote on a massive Pacific Rim free trade agreement under negotiation.

On a separate vote Friday, however, fast-track authority for Obama to negotiate a trade deal was approved by a narrow 219-211 vote. Since approval of both jobs training and fast track authority are needed to advance the trade package, the trade deal is stalled but not necessarily dead.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the White House needs to get more votes for job training. “There’s not a pathway yet,” Upton said in an interview. The extension “allows us time to work with the White House to see how we can put Humpty Dumpty back together.”

For more than seven years, the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada and eight other nations have been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would create a free trade zone. Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are also part of the negotiations. The pact would cover one-third of global trade and nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said Tuesday at a press conference the administration had “failed” to win enough protections in the trade deal which is “not on the right track.”

“We don’t want to give up our leverage,” Levin said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the United States must be on a level playing field. “Congress cannot abdicate its responsibility to protect the American worker,” she said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in an interview Tuesday that fast track authority won’t pass the Senate without job training assistance. “I think they need to go back to the drawing board and hear the message” from Democrats, Stabenow said.

Since 2009, the White House noted that 48,707 Michigan workers have qualified for federal job training assistance because they lost jobs due at least in part to global trade. That’s the second highest in the nation — and only behind California.

Michigan had nearly 900,000 factory jobs in 2000. The state has suffered through a series of rough years. In 2009, Michigan lost a quarter of its factory jobs, falling to about 470,000, but today it has rebounded to 590,000.

Proponents say free trade deals will expand markets for U.S. exports, boost higher-paying jobs and ensure that the U.S. — and not China — writes the rules for Asia Pacific free trade.

A free trade deal could be the single biggest change in global auto production in the last half century. Proponents say it could open more markets to U.S. autos, but critics say it would make it easier to shift production to lower wage countries.

U.S. automakers, especially Ford Motor Co., for months have sought the inclusion of provisions in fast track to prohibit countries, such as Japan, from manipulating their currency. When a country devalues its currency, its citizens are less able to afford goods — such as autos — made in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But the Obama administration said that it would kill any potential deal.

Labor unions oppose the trade deal, arguing that previous free trade pacts have not lived up to expectations and instead have cost the country millions of factory jobs that have gone to low-wage countries. Several members of Congress cited the loss of thousands of auto sector jobs in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin as arguments against a free trade deal.

To block the trade pact, Democrats sympathetic to the unions joined with Republicans who believe the job training proposal is wasteful.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said she was lobbied heavily by the White House on trade. But she said she couldn’t back Obama on this vote. “This is about my district. This is about my core beliefs,” she said in an interview. “Trade agreements don’t go away.”

Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, backed fast-track authority. “While it’s not a perfect solution, I see this legislation as helpful to families, small businesses and manufacturers in our district,” Trott said.

Among the state’s Republicans, all except Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township voted for both measures.