President Obama’s signature trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been given a six-week reprieve while he and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-PH, hunt for additional votes on a related bill that would move the trade deal forward.
The TPP is a 12-nation free-trade agreement that has been in the works since 2009. Obama has asked Congress for fast-track authority that would give him free rein to negotiate with the 11 other nations. Once the negotiations conclude, the president would come back to Congress for an up-or-down vote on whether to approve the deal.
The TPP could bring major economic activity to Colorado’s agricultural industry, most importantly for beef exports.
But the deal has been opposed by labor, environmental and social justice groups on many of its provisions. For example, social justice advocates note that some of the countries included in TPP have dismal human rights records. Organized labor fears the job losses, and environmental groups want stronger environmental standards for the nations that would participate.
The Senate has already passed the major bill in the package, and it’s now up to the House to finish that work and send it to the president for signing.
But the TPP was dealt a mortal blow last Friday, and its chances of resurrection appear slight. The House voted, by a 3:1 margin, to reject a related Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, HR 1314, that would have provided financial assistance to U.S workers who lose their jobs due to TPP.
Under the rules of debate approved by the House last Thursday, the TAA bill had to pass in order for all the other bills in the trade package to go forward.
Chief among those other bills: the fast-track authority for the president to move forward on TPP negotiations.
But Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, held firm against fast-track authority and the assistance agreement. Democrats claimed a vote for TAA was a vote to cut Medicare by $700 million, and they also raised concerns about human rights violations by some of the countries proposed to be included in the trade deal.
The vote to kill the assistance agreement was 302 against and 126 in favor. The TAA bill needs an additional 90 votes in order to pass.
Those 90 votes didn’t seem likely on Tuesday.
House Republicans offered another resolution yesterday morning governing more rules of debate. Tucked into that resolution, primarily on national security, was a request to delay the TAA vote for up to six weeks. Democrats howled in protest, arguing it was an unprecedented move by the Speaker, but Republicans had the votes. The measure passed 236-189, with the four Republicans in Colorado’s delegation voting in favor and the three Democrats voting against.
According to comments made by Democrats on the House floor, the assistance agreement can be brought up at any time, meaning any time the speaker and president have found those 90-plus votes.
But Politico reported late yesterday that Boehner may try a different tactic: asking for a vote on the Senate version of fast-track authority and letting the Senate deal with the trade adjustment assistance legislation.
Whether House Democrats will go along with it is the big question. They’ve had a love-hate relationship with the trade-adjustment bill; arguing on one hand that it doesn’t provide sufficient funding for American workers who lost their jobs due to TPP, and on the other hand pointing out that part of the deal on worker assistance has included tapping Medicare funds. Under the deal being worked out yesterday, the Senate would amend the trade adjustment legislation into a separate trade preferences bill.
Politico said the House vote on the Senate’s fast-track authority bill could take place later this week. The House’s version passed last week by a slim margin, but it was mostly an academic exercise, since under the rules the trade adjustment bill had to pass for the others to be successful.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr.