An Ohio congressman and the president of one of the nation's largest labor unions on Monday urged President Obama to press Congress on a transportation funding bill before he brings up any international trade-related legislation for approval.
The two argued that the president will have more leverage on the transportation bill if he does it first, because trade is what the Republicans want more.
"I think the president will lose any leverage that he may have to pass a transportation bill if they do the trade deal first," Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said during a press conference call that also featured Larry Cohen, president of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America. Doing trade first would remove any incentive the GOP has to work with the president on other legislation.
Ryan said the president should tell the Republicans, "Give me a fully-funded transportation bill, then we'll talk about" the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. The lawmaker added that this would not sway his vote on the trade deal, but argued it would be a good "tactic" for the White House.
Left unsaid was that doing the transportation bill first would also likely lessen the trade bill's chances for passage, since it would take away something the White House could use to sway to sway lawmakers who remain undecided on the trade bill.
Both are ardent opponents of the White House's trade agenda, which they argue will hurt the economy, particularly unionized industries, and the environment. Ryan said later in the call that he was trying to "kill the deal altogether."
Cohen went on a lengthy tirade against the trade deals. "What we want is an end to trade deals that cost us net jobs," he said.
Asked for a comment, Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Holmes said, "Both trade and transportation are high priority issues for the U.S. Chamber, and we will continue to work with Congress and the administration on these job-creating issues."
International trade is one of the few issues where President Obama is allied with Republicans and at odds with many — perhaps most — Democrats. That makes it one of the president's best opportunities to pass something through Congress, but it will require finesse. If enough Democrats balk, the deal could still die.
The main item on Obama's trade agenda is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The proposal would lower tariffs and set new, uniform regulations for intellectual property, labor and state-owned enterprises for 12 Pacific Rim nations.
The international talks regarding TPP are reportedly wrapping up, and the administration is expected to bring the deal to Congress for approval in the spring.
The White House wants Congress to pass a renewed version of trade promotion authority before it brings up TPP, though. Also known as "fast track," the measure would prohibit Congress from amending trade deals, allowing only an up or down vote. The White House argues fast track is necessary to give the president leverage in future trade deals by assuring foreign countries that any agreements won't be altered by Congress.
Obama has also called for a $478 billion transportation bill to fund repairs to the nation's infrastructure. Lawmakers have contemplated a raise in the federal gas tax to fund the bill, but most Republicans are opposed to any tax hikes.
Organized labor favors the spending since federal infrastructure contracts often go to unionized businesses.
This story originally published at 3:19 p.m. and has been updated since then.