The U.S. House is likely to vote this week to allow President Barack Obama to speedily conclude a huge Pacific Rim trade accord, Republican congressional leaders signaled Wednesday.
The vote, possibly on Friday, will be tight by all accounts, and leaders who back the measure including House Speaker John Boehner and Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan are by no means assured of success.
Obama has earned the support of a majority of Republicans in Congress for his trade push, which could produce a legacy accomplishment for his presidency.
But his Democrats are split, with many strongly opposed to so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). The bill would allow Obama and his successor to fast-track international trade accords by providing Congress with an up-or-down vote on the trade agreements but no ability to amend them.
A 'yes' vote on TPA would not constitute approval of the Pacific trade accord itself, which is still under negotiation with 11 other countries.
TPA passed the Senate last month in a victory for Obama, and House leaders said they would hold trade votes as soon as they feel they had sufficient support.
"We're doing really well," Ryan insisted as he emerged from a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, adding that leaders have addressed several concerns voiced by skeptics.
"We are in our closing arguments, we're comfortable, and that's why we're proceeding," Ryan said.
House leaders introduced the trade package late Tuesday, a move that a senior Republican aide said gives leaders "flexibility to move on TPA as early as this week."
Progress stalled over a dispute about how to pay for aid to US workers displaced by globalization, a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance.
But Boehner said Wednesday he and top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi worked out a "fix" that would see tighter corporate tax compliance pay for TAA costs instead of drawing them from Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for seniors and the disabled.
Pelosi, a top Obama ally who helped shepherd his landmark Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010, has not publicly said how she will vote on trade.
Other Democrats, led by anti-TPA congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and backed by labor unions, were outspoken in their opposition.
"I'm against this bad deal for American workers, because it erodes jobs and it's NAFTA on steroids," said congressman Paul Tonko, referring to the 1994 trade pact between the US, Canada and Mexico which critics blame for the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs.
DeLauro is said to be rallying as many as 150 Democratic "no" votes for TPA. A few dozen Republicans might vote against it too, leaving little breathing room for TPA passage.
"It's a work in progress," House Republican Trent Franks said of TPA's prospects.
While Republicans "are collectively very pro-free-trade," Franks said, some in the party "do not trust this president" and may not be willing to give Obama a major political victory.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015