Congress Runs Out Of Time Can’t Pass Trade Bill

By Elvina Nawaguna

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration’s hopes of securing “fast-track” trade negotiating authority from Congress this year look certain to be dashed given the limited time left on the congressional calendar, the No. 2 House Democrat said on Tuesday.

The administration wants Congress to quickly pass Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, to help it secure a trade agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, including Australia, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico.

“I don’t realistically see TPA moving,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters, saying that Congress would likely be busy with other bills during the eight working days it has left in 2013.

TPA, which expired in 2007, would prevent Congress from amending trade deals, and the White House was hoping it would have it in hand to coax its negotiating partners in the Pacific Rim talks to come forward with their best offers.

The Obama administration wants to reach an agreement in those talks by year-end, but a lack of fast-track authority could make that goal hard to reach. Negotiators converged in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday for another round of talks.

Last week, Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who leads a House trade subcommittee, said lawmakers were close to introducing a bill to renew TPA but that they needed Obama to win over his fellow Democrats.

As a sweetener for Democrats, the administration wants Congress to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance, a government program to retrain workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition or factories’ moving overseas. That bill is unpopular with many free market-minded Republicans though.

Hoyer said he would like to see Congress make TPA a priority next year, but he put TAA on his must-do list for 2013.

(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna and Richard Cowan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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