President Obama and Republican House leaders are regrouping in an effort to put key trade legislation back on track after House Democrats voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers displaced by global trade, a key part of the President’s trade agenda.
The development threatens ultimate passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement with 12 nations along the Pacific Ocean. A legacy priority for the Obama Administration, the TPP would eliminate Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) to trade, lower tariffs, and harmonize regulations in countries representing 40 percent of the global economy.
In May, the Senate passed the Trade Act of 2015 by a vote of 62-37. The Senate bill combined Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) with TAA. House leaders decided split their trade package into three separate bills: the TAA, the TPA, and a customs bill. Rejecting personal requests from President Obama, House Democrats voted to end the TAA, a program Democrats have supported for more than 40 years.
In an interesting twist, the House then voted 219-211, including support from 28 Democrats, to approve a stand-along bill that would provide TPA authority for the President. TPA had been expected to be the most controversial issue. Because the TPA and TAA measures were contained in the same piece of legislation in the Senate and in separate pieces in the House, the TPA provisions cannot be signed into law in current form.
President Obama’s team pledged to continue to push for passage of the trade bills. They noted that the Senate first blocked fast-track legislation before voting to approve it in May.
As a next step, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is assessing whether he can secure enough votes for passage of the TAA on a second vote. He has filed a motion for the House to reconsider the TAA vote perhaps this week. It also is possible that House Republicans could pass a rule to allow TPA to return to the Senate for consideration.