House Votes On Obama’s Trade Agenda UPDATE: Stalled By Democrats

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 1:56 PM
House Votes On Obama’s Trade Agenda UPDATE: Stalled By Democrats

The House of Representatives is voting on the Senate’s bill regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is Obama’s trade legacy–and House Democrats just hit the brakes on it

The Trade Adjustment Assistance package, which would’ve provided assistance to workers impacted by free trade, was soundly rejected 302-126 in the House.

House has voted on granting fast-track authority to President Obama on TPP. It barely passed by a 219-211 "symbolic" vote.

House is set to reconsider the rejected TAA measure next week.

Lastly, the Trade Enforcement And Customs Bill, which included a currency manipulation provision that could probably torpedo the deal, as the White House fears it will “scare” off Japan, along with Singapore and Malaysia, from future negotiations–passed 240-190.

The fact that the critical TAA portion was shot down, and a stand alone TPA (fast-track) measure was passed by the House, means the Senate would be forced to take up the measure again (via NYT):

House Democrats rebuffed a dramatic personal appeal from President Obama on Friday, torpedoing his ambitious push to expand his trade negotiating power — and, quite likely, his chance to secure a legacy-defining trade accord spanning the Pacific Ocean.

In a remarkable rejection of a president they have resolutely backed, House Democrats voted to kill assistance to workers displaced by global trade, a program their party created and has stood by for four decades. By doing so, they brought down legislation granting the president trade promotion authority — the power to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress — before it could even come to a final vote.

“We want a better deal for America’s workers,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader who has guided the president’s agenda for two terms and was personally lobbied by Mr. Obama until the last minute.

Republican leaders tried to muster support from their own party for trade adjustment assistance, a program they have long derided as an ineffective waste of money and sop to organized labor. But not enough Republicans were willing to save the program.

Republican leaders then passed a stand-alone trade promotion bill, but that would force the Senate to take up a trade bill all over again. And without trade adjustment assistance alongside it, passing trade promotion authority in the Senate would be highly doubtful.

The participating nations in this free trade agreement, whose approval has been 10 years in the making, represents about 40 percent of the world’s GDP. It’s a big deal, and one President Obama was unusually aggressive about regarding its passage. He became involved in some of the internal spats with members of his own party, which was out-of-character for a president who has so far refrained from participating in such melees.

Prior to the vote, Obama actually went up to the Hill and pleaded with House Democrats to back his trade agenda (via Politico):

Obama spent roughly 45 minutes with Democratic lawmakers, taking no questions but telling his party to “vote your values,” according to a source in the room.

The meeting was a big, risky moment for the president and his second-term agenda, as a package of trade bills is stalled because of Democratic opposition.

The president needs to convince Democrats to back a measure, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, that would provide aid and retraining to workers who lose their jobs due to trade agreements. The aid legislation, which is in serious jeopardy, must pass before the House can vote on the central Trade Promotion Authority legislation. That would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

House Democrats — most of whom have been firmly entrenched in their position for weeks — were still divided. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a pro-trade Democrat from Oregon, said Obama “hit it out of the park.”

“It was a powerful presentation,” Blumeuaer said. But another supporter, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said it’s an “uphill climb to get to 217,” referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a top House Democrat from New York, said she would not vote for TAA because she doesn’t want “this trade bill to go through.”

“TAA has always been an absolute admission to me that there is going to be lots of lost jobs,” Slaughter said.

There was also some anger at the president. Rep. Peter DeFazio said he thought Obama “tried to guilt people and impugn their integrity.”

“There was a number of us who were insulted,” DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in an interview after the meeting.

At the time, Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) position was unknown, until she said as the vote approached zero hour that she is against the TAA provision. Truth be told, the House was always going to be higher political hurdle for the administration given that over 150 House Democrats signed a letter denouncing the TPP agreement. This development, coupled with the hard-core conservative wing of the Republican Party who don’t want to give the president any more power (most likely over Obama’s executive actions on immigration that remain in legal limbo), was going to make this vote a nail-biter. Also, there were concerns on the right that this agreement could lead to more actions on immigration and climate change from this administration.

Senate Democrats initially blocked the TPA provision, but the trade package moved forward once Senate Republicans allowed the Trade Enforcement and Customs Bill and the TAA/TPA provisions to be voted on separately.

Final thoughts: