President Barack Obama's push for fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA) cleared a critical hurdle in the Senate this week paving the way for likely final passage there next week.
But the president's push faces a much steeper—and perhaps insurmountable—obstacle in the House, where an odd coalition of tea party Republicans and liberal Democrats could block Obama's efforts.
Right now, as Mike Allen notes in Friday's Politico Playbook, the votes are simply not there to pass TPA in the House. And without TPA, Obama will likely be unable to finish the giant Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that he views as a key piece of his presidential legacy.
Right now, Democrats count fewer than 20 votes for TPA out of their 188-member caucus. There are 245 House Republicans, enough to pass TPA on their own, but a solid block of GOP members will likely vote against the measure, either because they fear its impact on U.S. jobs and wages or they simply don't want to give more authority to a president they despise.
House GOP leadership will probably need north of 180 votes to get TPA through, and sources told Allen they are nowhere near that number. The White House and its top House ally, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have to hope that the trade dynamic will change in a significant way following likely Senate passage of TPA.
It will probably change somewhat, but counting on legislative momentum out of the Senate has not been a winning strategy in recent years. Immigration reform died in the House after clearing the Senate. And the restive House GOP caucus has regularly refused to go along with Senate deals on spending measures, at least at first.
Once TPA gets out of the Senate, major business lobby groups from a wide range of industries will kick into high gear to pressure wavering members on the left and right. But in the age of unlimited spending by super PACs and wealthy individual donors, the power of industry groups to use their money-bundling influence to sway votes is not even close to what it once was. And even a hint that Wall Street is pushing for TPA passage (which it is) would do more harm than good to the lobbying effort.
Meanwhile, big labor unions including the AFL-CIO will as well as progressive pressure groups will keep up a relentless drive to make sure as few Democratic members as possible vote with the president on TPA.