US House passes standalone fast track bill giving president more authority in TPP talks

Source: USA Today
Date: 18, June 2015
Author: Susan Davis

WASHINGTON–The U.S. House narrowly approved, 218-208, a six-year renewal of trade promotion authority in an ongoing effort to revive President Obama’s trade agenda in the face of stiff Democratic opposition.

Republicans, working closely with the White House, are executing a new strategy to pass the authority, also known as TPA or “fast track,” as well as trade adjustment assistance (TAA), an aid program for displaced American workers.

Last week, House Democrats voted down TAA, a program they historically support, in a concerted strategy to derail fast track. The two bills’ fates were linked to each other because they passed as one piece of legislation in the Senate last month.

Now, House Republicans will send the fast track bill back to the Senate, where supporters hope they can muster the 60 votes necessary to pass it as a standalone measure. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pledged to bring trade adjustment assistance back to the floor soon after fast track passes.

The White House is eager to enact TPA because it provides an expedited process to get trade bills through Congress, allowing them only to be approved or rejected, not amended. Obama has made trade a significant focus of his foreign policy legacy in his final months in office.

“We are committed to ensuring both … get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature,” Boehner and McConnell said in a joint statement Wednesday. Obama also met privately Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers who support his trade agenda to shore up the votes.

Supporters want to try and wrap up the trade debate before Congress adjourns for the July 4 week-long recess.

Separating the two bills is intended to renew pressure on House Democrats, who could be faced with a worst-case scenario of reauthorizing fast track with adjustment assistance set to expire Sept. 30. The risky maneuver relies heavily on Democrats trusting GOP leaders to keep their word to pass TAA.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who joined the majority of House Democrats in voting down the trade bill last week, told reporters Thursday that she still did not see a path forward for TAA. “I don’t think so, no,” she said, dismissing questions about frayed Democratic relations with the White House.

“We have a deep relationship of trust with the president,” she said.

Democratic opponents are backed by labor unions and liberal activist groups who oppose fast track because it will make it easier to enact the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact with Asia-Pacific nations. The pact is one of the largest trade deals in history, and opponents say the shrouded negotiations could negatively affect American jobs, as well we human rights and environmental standards.

Liberal groups also threatened to hold Democrats accountable at the ballot box if they support the latest gambit.

“Any Democrat in Congress who trusts John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to pass trade adjustment assistance, that will actually help working families, deserves to lose their job,” said Jim Dean, chair of the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America.

Democratic opponents acknowledged Thursday that if TPA is enacted, TPP is likely to pass if it comes up for a vote later this year. “A ‘yes’ vote on TPA is a ‘yes’ vote on TPP, it’s that simple,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

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