WASHINGTON (AP) — Top House Democrats and Republicans say the other party, not theirs, is chiefly responsible for securing enough votes to pass President Barack Obama's ambitious trade agenda.
While key Republicans said Thursday that Obama must obtain more Democratic support, the House's top Democrat warned against assuming any further help from her party. It's the GOP's problem, said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The finger-pointing suggested Obama could fall about 10 votes short of achieving a major policy goal. Yet both parties acknowledged that victory seems tantalizingly close, and key lawmakers predicted the measure will pass this month.
"We're not quite there yet," Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top House Republican on trade, told reporters. "We're getting within striking distance," he said, but Democrats "are going to have to deliver more than they have right now."
Ryan suggested a possible concession if it's needed to push the number of House Democrats publicly supporting the trade package beyond 18, where it has stood for a while. He said there "are plenty" of ways to fund a liberal-backed jobs program other than cutting Medicare spending, a Senate-approved method that angered House Democrats.
At issue is Trade Adjustment Assistance, which helps workers displaced by trade agreements. It's a liberal priority added to the bill the Senate passed. Ryan, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said there could be alternative ways to fund the assistance program without sending the legislation back to the Senate, which pro-trade forces want to avoid. He wouldn't specify.
Pelosi told reporters only 18 of the House's 188 Democrats have announced support for the president's trade agenda, and no one should assume there will be more. House Speaker John Boehner must produce at least 200 votes from this 245-member caucus, said Pelosi, who remains noncommittal on the trade legislation.
"That's the Speaker's responsibility," she told reporters.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest didn't quarrel with Pelosi's assessment. But he called Obama "a pretty determined advocate for the most progressive trade legislation that's ever moved through the Senate. He believes that there is ample reason why Democrats in the House should vote for it, and he will continue to make the case that they should."
Boehner, R-Ohio, said he spoke with Obama this week, telling reporters, "he's got some work to do, too." Ryan echoed that sentiment.
GOP leaders have said they think roughly 190 House Republicans are backing the trade agenda thus far. That could leave the pro-trade forces about 10 votes short, although there's ample time for more lobbying.
Obama seeks "fast track" negotiating authority, which the Senate endorsed last month. Such authority would let Obama present Congress with proposed trade agreements that it could ratify or reject, but not change. If he obtains it, Obama hopes to advance the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other nations, including Japan and Vietnam.
Obama says U.S. producers need better access to world markets.
Numerous House Republicans say they don't trust Obama with enhanced authority for anything, including trade.
Ryan says he tells them, "if you don't trust this president, then you need TPA," or Trade Promotion Authority, another name for fast track. "It constrains the president" by giving Congress ample time to review, and then pass judgment on, proposed trade agreements, Ryan said.
Labor unions and other anti-fast-track groups are pounding House Democrats who are uncommitted or supporting the president's trade agenda. Targets of AFL-CIO protests include Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, David Price of North Carolina and Ami Bera, Jim Costa, Scott Peters and Susan Davis of California.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Darlene Superville and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.