House approves Obamatrade's fast track authority
The president's trade agenda was revived in the House when members voted 218-208 to give Obama fast track authority to conclude a free trade deal with 11 Asian nations.
Last Friday, the House rejected the measure 219-211. But that bill contained Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to compensate workers for being displaced by the trade agreement. Democrats, who support TAA, voted against the bill anyway, hoping to kill the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal.
In last week’s vote, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.
House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups.
The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama’s desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would see the two bills move separately.
The problem lies in the Senate, which previously approved a package that included both bills.
If the two move separately, Republicans and the White House will have to convince Senate Democrats to back fast-track on the promise that TAA will move forward at a later time.
The president spoke with a group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday at the White House, and talks continued in the Senate on Thursday on a way to give the president trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track.
One possible solution would see the Senate vote first to pass a trade preferences bill, this time with the TAA program attached. It would then be sent to the House for a vote before the Senate considers fast-track.
This planned move angered members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who asked Senate leaders not to use the trade measure, which would provide preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries, as a bargaining chip to pass trade promotion authority.
Democrats opposed to the trade package expressed frustration that GOP leaders were bypassing them.
“Instead of cooperation, they’ve opted to use procedural tricks to pass the TPA,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
As promised, all 28 pro-trade House Democrats supported the bill again.
Fast track is still in trouble, given the Senate's reluctance to move ahead with it unless TAA is included. Senate Democrats don't trust Majority Leader McConnell to bring up TAA once fast track is passed. Hence, the move to pass TAA first, and then work on fast track.
It probably won't work. The House has its own objections to TAA, and it's uncertain whether a TAA stand alone bill could pass. So, while the House vote yesterday may have temporarily resuscitated fast track authority, there is only modest hope that the patient will make a full recovery.