With Trade Promotion Authority stalled, what next?

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 - Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is stalled in the House after the dramatic events of last week, when Democrats spurned President Obama and voted en masse against the section of the TPA bill extending Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that he's “committed to getting TPA done as soon as possible” and said the GOP leadership is studying several options. “We're looking for a way forward,” he told reporters. “When we find one we'll let you know.”

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Another vote is possible yet this week, according to sources, possibly on a TPA-only measure. Boehner met Tuesday with a group of pro-trade Democrats to gauge their support for options, said one of the lawmakers present, Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

Boehner faces these basic options, none of which would appear to be easy to pull off:

-Hold another vote on TAA. The House approved a procedural rule Tuesday that gives the House until July 30 to do that. The problem is that it would require switching 90 or so votes. Only 40 Democrats and 86 Republicans voted for TAA June 12. One of the 40 Democrats, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said it's hard to see how the necessary votes can be changed and suggested that the idea was off the table for now.

-Hold a single vote on the entire legislation, instead of having separate votes on TPA and TAA. TPA passed, 216-211, with the support of 28 Democrats offsetting the loss of 54 Republicans. The concern is that the combined bill would lose the support of some GOP conservatives, who consider TAA a welfare program, without gaining Democratic votes. Hoyer and Schrader both expressed doubt that the combined bill could pass. 

-Strip out TAA and pass TPA by itself. This option would require sending the trade bill back to the Senate for its approval, since the Senate approved the legislation with TAA in it, at the insistence of Democrats in that chamber. Senate Democrats would likely demand enactment of TAA in some other form, either as a standalone bill, or as an amendment to a Customs and enforcement bill that the House and Senate have yet to negotiate.

This third option is known to be under active discussion. The bill (HR 1314) can go directly to Obama only if the House approves both the TPA and TAA sections. Yet another concern is that adding TAA to the Customs bill could ultimately sink that legislation when it went back to the House for a final vote, a GOP leadership aide said.

But given the difficulty of reversing 90 votes on TAA, Republicans may have no option but to pass TAA separately, said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican close to the GOP leadership. “It's awfully tough to cast a vote in a high charged moment … and then turn around within a matter of days and a couple of weeks and change,” he said.

After the June 12 vote, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California for the first time linked Democratic support for TAA to passage of a long-term surface transportation funding bill. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., told reporters Tuesday that a highway bill would give Democrats something to show for supporting TAA. But Republicans appear to be a long way from figuring out how to fund a long-term highway measure, and they question whether that linkage with TAA is serious anyway, given that Pelosi didn't raise it until after the TAA vote.

Some backers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are starting to air concerns that the delay in passing TPA could threaten getting the deal completed and then through Congress while Obama is still in the White House. Cole, however, downplayed that concern. “This is a relatively short period to wait” for the Pacific Rim deal, said “I don't think people are going to give up easily.”

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