House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Capitol Hill's biggest Republican proponent of "fast-track" trade legislation, said Sunday he remains optimistic, despite the recent collapse of a deal that would have cleared the way for President Barack Obama to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific pact.
Ryan, R-Wis., in an interview on Fox News Sunday, said the most difficult legislative work required for fast track — lining up GOP and Democratic votes for Trade Promotion Authority for the president — is done. Now it's up to Obama and the Democrats to come to an agreement on an underlying worker-training bill that failed on the floor Friday, derailing the entire package. "The heavy lifting is over. Trade Promotion Authority which is the more difficult part, the heavy lift, is done," said Ryan, who ran on the GOP ticket against Obama in 2012, but finds himself allied with the White House on the trade deal. "The Democrats abandoned their president ... in droves. The president has a lot of work to do with his own party to turn this around, to salvage this."
"It's ironic, they're the ones who are making him a very lame-duck president — his own party," he said.
But the former vice presidential candidate said the potential Trans-Pacific Partnership is too important to the U.S. to be abandoned.
"I'm optimistic. I think that this can be salvaged because I think people are going to realize just how big the consequences are for American leadership. Whether or not America is going to lead in the global economy and write the rules, whether we're going to expand markets for more jobs, or we're just going to retreat," he said. "Is fear and falsehood going to grip this country so that we can't do anything big anymore, or are we going to overcome these things?
Ryan was critical of former Obama administration Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democrats' 2016 presidential nomination who has stayed on the sidelines as the trade debate has roiled her party.
"Take a position. That's what leaders do. We're not talking about passing a trade agreement right now. TPP is still being negotiated. It doesn't exist yet as an agreement," Ryan said. "We're talking about ... whether Congress can up set the procedures to consider trade agreements. This is what this is about, it's about global leadership. Surely a person who was secretary of State understands something about American leadership. And to refuse to even take a position is just sort of mystifying to me."
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