The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday took the first step toward resuscitating the White House’s trade agenda by passing legislation granting President Obama fast-track authority. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the White House and GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal with pro-trade Democrats.
The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats in favor and 50 Republicans opposed.
House Democrats last week dealt a severe blow to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda when they voted against a key trade program that provides assistance to displaced workers, called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). Democrats generally back aid to workers, but voted TAA down because it was tied to the fast-track measure.
This renewed push does not include the TAA provision, but promises a vote to extend the program, which expires in September.
The measure would grant Obama and the next president what is known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), allowing the White House to fast-track through Congress a string of enormous trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.
Proponents have argued that the huge trade pacts are the only way for America to maintain its status as the world's leader and ensure economic growth. Supporters accused opponents of spreading falsehoods about the trade deals and said there would not be secret assaults on U.S. laws, standards and the environment.
Thursday’s vote moves the measure back to the Senate, which passed an earlier version that was still linked to the workers' aid provisions. The plan is for the Senate to amend that bill to include worker trade assistance. The new fast-track bill will have to move through the Senate, and lawmakers hope it will be on President Obama’s desk before the July 4 recess.
“Today’s vote is a big step forward and we urge the Senate to follow suit, act quickly, and pass the House-approved TPA bill. Trade Promotion Authority is critical to completing negotiations of the free trade agreements with the Pacific and Europe. The U.S. can’t afford to sit on the sidelines as other countries negotiate and sign free trade agreements,” said Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. “We also urge the Congress to complete work on the trade preferences bill as soon as possible. Last week the House passed the preferences bill overwhelmingly. The package includes a number of measures that will provide immediate relief to apparel and footwear companies.”
“The footwear industry applauds the House of Representatives for re-passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation today,” FDRA President Matt Priest said after the bill’s passage. “This has been a long and complex journey but I am confident that the U.S. Senate will soon pass this vital tool that every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has had at his disposal. TPA is essential to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that could help the U.S. footwear industry and American consumers save hundreds of millions of dollars each year in costs. Our industry paid $2.7 billion in duties last year – more than $450 million from TPP partner countries alone. FDRA has worked for years to highlight the hundreds of thousands of U.S. footwear jobs that rely on our ability to move goods all over the world, with trade supporting one in five jobs in America. As this legislation heads back to the Senate, FDRA will continue to lead the charge with congressional leaders to share our story and explain how TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strengthen and expand these jobs throughout the U.S.”
David French, Senior Vice President for Government Relations at NRF, said in a statement, “We applaud House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. for their commitment to free and open trade and working with Republicans and Democrats alike to salvage the president’s economic and international trade agenda.
“Today’s vote on trade promotion authority will grant Congress new powers and responsibilities to craft and monitor our 21st century trade policy, and aid our trade representatives as they work to negotiate pending and future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
“We urge the Senate to quickly consider the stand-alone TPA bill so it can move to the president’s desk for his signature. They should also finish work on other trade-related bills, including trade adjustment assistance and customs and preferences.
“The world is watching the U.S. Congress and our nation’s commitment to free and open trade.”