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Republicans urge Obama to pressure Democrats on trade deals

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses employees of General Electric's Waukesha Gas Engines facility in Waukesha, Wisconsin, January 30, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses employees of General Electric's Waukesha Gas Engines facility in Waukesha, Wisconsin, January 30, 2014

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday called on President Barack Obama to "get his own party in line" behind the fast-track trade negotiation authority that he called for in his State of the Union address.

House Speaker John Boehner complained about opposition to the so-called trade promotion authority from Harry Reid, the top Senate Democrat, saying that this would hinder passage of a measure that Obama and many Republicans believe will fuel export and job growth.

"The president needs to engage on trade promotion authority," Boehner told reporters at a House Republican retreat in Cambridge, Maryland.

"So the question is, is the president going to stand up and lead on this issue? We cannot pass this bill without his help," Boehner said. "This is one of his own priorities. You would think that he would have the Senate majority leader working with him to pass trade promotion authority in order to expand opportunities for our fellow citizens."

The promotion authority would allow the Obama administration to speed up the negotiations for two massive free trade pacts that would cover about two-thirds of the world's international trade - a pan-Pacific trading bloc and a U.S. tie-up with the European Union.

Fast-track authority is seen as a litmus test of political support for these free trade deals, which have been opposed by some of Obama's power bases - unions, environmentalists and consumer groups, who often worry about lost jobs and weaker labor and pollution restrictions.

Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, said on Wednesday he was "against fast track" and urged a slow approach to trade negotiations.

"I think - that everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now," said Reid, who is from Nevada.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking House Republican, also called on Obama to "get his own party in line" on the trade issue.

"The president's State of the Union said he had a phone and a pen. I think the first phone call actually has to be to Harry Reid, to talk about trade," McCarthy said.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney, speaking aboard Air Force One, told reporters on Thursday that Obama has long known about Reid's opposition to trade promotion authority but decided to emphasize his determination to push for expanded trade.

"The president's commitment was made clear again in the State of the Union address. Very important opportunity to expand trade, to not cede this territory to our competitors and the president will continue to press to get it done," Carney said.

While some Republicans affiliated with the conservative Tea Party movement are also skeptical of fast-track trade authority because it increases the president's power, many mainstream, pro-business Republicans support it as a means of boosting exports.

"Expanded trade means more opportunities for Americans, more exports," Boehner said.

(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Tom Brown)

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