Top Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives late Wednesday set in motion an elaborate legislative plan to save a bundle of languishing trade legislation, which could begin with holding its second vote to renew the White House’s Trade Promotion Authority in less than a week.
The House Rules Committee held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to prepare a fresh vote on the bill to renew TPA that could take place as early as Thursday’s legislative session. The lower chamber already approved the measure with a 219-211 vote last week, but the bill was sunk after a failed vote to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance put it out of step with the bill passed by the U.S. Senate.
After several days of scrambling behind the scenes, Capitol Hill leaders now appear to be proceeding on a track that will officially bifurcate the contentious TPA and TAA provisions, even as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted that President Barack Obama will not sign one piece into law without the other. (Credit Fox News).
“The only legislative strategy that the president will support is a strategy that results in both TPA and TAA coming to his desk,” Earnest told reporters Wednesday. (Credit AP).
Much like the first iteration of the process, the rule approved by the Rules Committee late Wednesday does not allow for any amendments on the floor, meaning that the House could hold a vote on the rule and then swiftly proceed to a vote on the TPA itself.
If the House is able to pass TPA, also known as fast-track, it would then move to the U.S. Senate, where it also enjoys bipartisan support. With TPA on the way to Obama’s desk, the House Democrats that scuttled the package last week by voting down TAA, a worker aid program they would otherwise support, would lose crucial leverage.
But any agreement to shepherd through TPA in this matter would need some measure of Democratic assurance that TAA would not be left behind. This would mean that the Senate would follow up its TPA vote with another TAA vote, possibly combined with a previously passed bill to extend trade preference programs.
That could create problems back in the House, where the TAA is fiercely unpopular among the Republican majority, which would have no incentive to vote to renew the program if fast-track is already ticketed for the White House.
Time is of the essence in this process, as any further delay in approving fast-track will deal a considerable blow to the White House’s efforts to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key economic and foreign policy priority for the Obama administration.
Fast-track authority allows Congress to craft U.S. trade negotiating objectives in exchange for voting on completed accords with an up-or-down vote once they are completed. The TPP is nearly finished, but the pact’s major players are withholding their final offers in the most controversial areas until they are certain that the TPP cannot be amended by U.S. lawmakers.
Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb reiterated that point on Wednesday, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in a radio interview that the agreement could be wrapped up in as little as a week once fast-track is in place. (Credit AP).
“You can see the political heat’s rising by the day over there because of the presidential election next year,” Robb said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on his office’s website. “But if it’s not dealt with in the next two or three weeks, I think we’ve got a real problem with the future of the TPP.” (Credit AP).