As negotiators in Paris worked to finalize a global agreement on climate change, the Republican-controlled House on Friday approved a bill that would block trade deals from being used to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporters said the wide-ranging bill would beef up enforcement of U.S. trade agreements and help prevent counterfeit goods from entering the country. The bill also would make permanent a moratorium that prevents states from taxing access to the Internet and blocks trade deals from requiring changes to U.S. immigration laws.
The bill was approved on a 256-168 vote. Twenty-four Democrats joined with 232 Republicans to support the bill. The bill now goes to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill sends the wrong message as U.S. diplomats meet in Paris with more than 190 nations to finalize an agreement to reduce man-made carbon emissions and adapt to rising seas and increasingly extreme weather.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said the climate provision was inserted by Republicans who oppose action on climate change. Many Republicans in Congress question whether human activities are contributing to global warming.
"The Republican Party of the United States may be the only political party anywhere in denial about climate change," Levin said. "That denial is why this provision ... on climate is before us."
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said the bill "will level the playing field for Americans and also make it easier for them to compete in a global marketplace."
The provisions on climate change and immigration ensure greater oversight of executive-branch negotiators who work on international trade agreements, Brady said.
"Trade agreements should not include provisions on immigration or greenhouse gas emissions," he said, noting that there are other ways for officials to address both immigration policy and global climate change.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the bill ensures that U.S. trade laws are enforced, that trade is streamlined and efficient and that trade agreements are not used to make significant changes to other U.S. policies, including expansion of access to visas allowing foreign nationals to enter the country.
The provision on Internet taxation helps spur online innovation and "preserve Internet freedom so it can continue to be an engine for economic growth and human development," McCarthy said.
Democrats complained that the bill stripped important protections against currency manipulation and eliminated penalties against countries that engage in human trafficking.
"We need to get these countries to meet minimum standards on trafficking, certainly well before we enter into a trade and investment relationship with them," Levin said. "Unfortunately, this (legislation) does not get us there."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill "turns a blind eye to human trafficking" and criticized it for refusing to address climate change as part of trade negotiations.
"You can't separate climate and commerce," she said.
The trade enforcement bill follows a series of votes over the summer in which the Republican-controlled Congress passed major legislation to strengthen President Barack Obama's hand in global trade talks.
Obama reached a deal in October with 11 Pacific Rim countries that cuts trade barriers, sets labor and environmental standards and protects multinational corporations' intellectual property.
Trade unions and liberal groups say the deal will expose American workers to foreign competition and cost jobs. Obama and most GOP leaders say the deal allows U.S. products to reach more markets.
Under a law approved this year, Congress can approve or reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, but cannot change it.