WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 – The House is set to break an impasse over the fast-track trade bill after GOP congressional leaders reached agreement to separately enact an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance programs.
The plan involves splitting a bill that included both the TAA extension and the fast-track Trade Promotion Authority that Obama needs to complete new trade agreements.
The House will vote on TPA Thursday and then leave TAA to be handled separately in other legislation.
The trade bill bogged down Friday when the House voted, 126-302, to defeat the TAA section of a Senate-passed trade bill but approved the TPA part, 219-211.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that Obama was working on a strategy to pass TPA and TAA separately rather than as combined legislation.
Later, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement saying they were “committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature."
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The new strategy introduces some uncertainty into the future of the trade legislation in that it would require new votes in the Senate on both TAA and TPA.
Had the House approved both sections of the trade bill (HR 1314) last Friday the combined legislation would have gone directly to the president.
Democrats opposed to Obama’s trade policy said that voting against TAA, normally a Democratic priority, was the only way to stop the legislation from getting to the president.
Earnest pointedly did not say that TPA and TAA had to be in the same bill but he said that Democratic TPA supporters would insist on the TAA extension, so there is no chance of TPA being enacted and the TAA programs being allowed to end.
"If there is a strategy that is put in place that only allows TPA to pass, that is not a strategy that the president would support… It won’t come to that," Earnest said.
Authorization for TAA programs expires Sept. 30.
Under a GOP plan approved by the House Rules Committee Wednesday, TPA is being folded into an unrelated public employment retirement bill (HR 2146) that had passed the House earlier on a near-unanimous vote.
Inserting TPA into the bill will force Democrats who oppose the fast-track measure to vote against a measure that benefits firefighters, air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers by allowing them to make penalty-free withdrawals after age 50.
TPA sets negotiating goals for trade agreements and sets up a process for considering the finished deals in Congress that ensure that lawmakers can’t amend them.