GOP weighing options to pass fast-track trade bill

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, June 15, 2015 - House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Republicans are “very committed” to enacting a fast-track trade bill, but wouldn't tip his hand as to how they would overcome Democratic resistance that stalled a section of the measure. 

“We have made no decisions yet, but there are options," McCarthy told reporters.

The bill, which would provide the president with Trade Promotion Authority, stalled Friday when the House defeated, 126-302, the section of the legislation (HR 1314) that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs. Although TAA programs are normally a Democratic priority, many Democrats saw voting against that section as a way to block the entire legislation.

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Late Monday, GOP leaders bought themselves time to deal with the issue by inserting language into the procedural rule for an unrelated bill that would give the House until July 30 to hold another vote on the TAA issue.

One possibility Republicans were considering Monday was stripping the TAA extension from the bill and having a House-Senate conference committee add it to a Customs bill (HR 644) that the House passed separately on Friday. That option would require sending the TPA-only bill back to the Senate for approval, and Democrats there might not support it without TAA.

McCarthy didn't rule out that option, and  Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, confirmed that it was one scenario of several options being considered. “I know they are looking at four or five different scenarios right now, including some combination with Customs,” Portman said.

The ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, declined to say whether he could accept that option.

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The administration is leaving the strategy up to congressional leaders, said spokesman White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “The President and the rest of us here at the White House continue to be confident that there is strong bipartisan support for this approach, and we just have to figure out how to untangle the legislative snafu in the House.”

McCarthy said the "best option right now would be for the Democrats to come to their senses and be able to move TAA."

He said he was “disappointed, confused” that his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had come out in opposition to TAA shortly before the vote despite President Obama's appeal to Democrats in a meeting at the Capitol that morning.

After the vote, Pelosi linked Democratic support for TAA to passage of a highway bill, an idea that McCarthy said “doesn't make sense” because Republicans already supported doing a long-term extension of surface transportation funding.

The House is supposed to vote by Tuesday on a motion by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to reconsider the TAA section. However, McCarthy said the vote could be delayed by writing a new procedural rule for the bill.

McCarthy said there are very few additional Republican votes to be had for TAA. During one point in the voting Friday, as many as 93 Republicans had registered “yes” on TAA, but some switched as the outcome became clear, leaving 86 GOP “ayes” at the end to go with the 40 Democrats.

(Updated at 9:00 p.m. EDT) 


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