Free Trade

Fast Track Authority for Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Pact Passes in House (Again) Today

It already passed the Senate. Now it has to again.

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Congressional procedure is fun! Whereas bills giving Obama "fast track" authority to send the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact to Congress where they will have to give it a straight yes or no vote with no amendment have passed in both the Senate and then, today, in the House of Representatives, the Senate must now pass it again—and Senate Democrats might want to squeeze some expensive concessions to do it.

Here's why, from The Hill:

The House vote was 218-208, with 28 Democrats voting for it.

This is the second time in a week the House has voted to approve the controversial fast-track bill. On Friday, the House voted 219-211 in favor of fast-track, which would make it easier for Obama to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

In last week's vote, the House GOP paired the fast-track bill with a measure known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that gives aid to workers displaced by trade. Both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.

House Democrats have historically favored TAA, but they voted against it on Friday to kill fast-track, which is deeply opposed by unions and other liberal groups.

The White House still wants both measures to reach Obama's desk, but is now advancing a different strategy that would see the two bills move separately.

The problem lies in the Senate, which previously approved a package that included both bills.

If the two move separately, Republicans and the White House will have to convince Senate Democrats to back fast-track on the promise that TAA will move forward at a later time.

Let's cast our minds back to the halcyon days of last week, when fast track authority's future seemed more grim. This is a story of Obama vs. much of the rest of his party, who are more interested in mollifying their environmental and organized labor constituents than giving their president a feather in his cap.

Here's the latest from the Senate, also from The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)…filed motions to advance fast-track authority and a separate package of trade preferences for African nations combined with an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program that helps workers displaced by foreign competition.

The Senate will vote to end debate on fast-track Tuesday and then will vote on final passage of the measure later that day or Wednesday. Immediately afterward, the Senate will vote to end debate on the package of trade preferences and TAA, setting up a final vote on those Wednesday or Thursday.

Pro-trade Senate Democrats have yet to sign off on the plan and are demanding a variety of concessions to sweeten the deal. McConnell needs at least 11 Democratic votes to make up for the expected loss of five Republicans who voted against fast-track last month.

But Democrats say it's going to cost McConnell something extra…McConnell appeared uninclined Thursday to give Democrats any favors and instead urged them to vote the same as they did last month on fast-track and TAA….

Some Democrats want a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank attached to the package of trade preferences and TAA. Others want an expansion of TAA, which now caps funding for worker training at $450 million per year….

Additionally, they want a promise that Congress will pass a separate customs and enforcement bill that includes labor and environmental protections. Both chambers have passed versions of the legislation that need to be reconciled in bicameral talks.

I remain absolutely agnostic on the value of the TPP itself (as it is still mostly secret, among other reasons) and a back-and-forth believer that fast track might ensure that any resulting trade deal will be better than it would be if Congress got to mess around with it–see the above for some reasons why.

But I remain a 100 percent believer that rather than highly negotiated and lengthy and complicated "trade pacts" we should just make it easier and cheaper all on our own to allow American citizens to buy goods and services from whoever we want over the globe, no matter what their governments choose to do to make their citizens' lives harder.