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American Shipper

Fast-track Trade Promotion Authority back on track?

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday voted to pass TPA for the second time in less than a week, this time decoupling fast-track authority from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

   So-called fast-track Trade Promotion Authority, a tool that gives the president the power to independently negotiate free trade agreements, may be back on track after nearly derailing completely last Friday.
   The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday voted to pass TPA for the second time in less than a week, this time decoupling fast-track authority from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. A previous vote in the Senate linked TPA with TAA, meaning that both bills would have to pass in the House before they could be sent to the president for approval.
   Thursday’s decision, which narrowly passed by a vote of 218-208, sends both bills back to the Senate to be debated and voted on again separately.
   Trade Adjustment Assistance is a program that extends federal assistance for job training, relocation and health benefits to workers displaced by employers relocating jobs overseas because of favorable trade conditions. TAA was trounced in the House on Friday – by a vote of 302-126 – prior to the vote on fast-track authority, as anti-trade Democrats sought to block the program in order to defeat the president’s overall trade agenda.
   President Obama and supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive free trade agreement currently being discussed with 11 other nations in Asia and the Americas, consider Trade Promotion Authority crucial to finalizing negotiations on the TPP. Obama has been lobbying for the so-called “fast-track” TPA bill that would give him the ability to complete trade deals with limited Congressional interference for several weeks now.
   Under the terms of TPA, free trade agreements would be negotiated by the president and then sent to Congress for an “up or down” (yes or no) vote. The legislature would not be allowed to amend or edit the deal, which Obama says will give him more leverage in negotiations as the other nations involved will not be worried about after-the-fact revisions.
   Opponents of the TPP, which include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, have lobbied against Trade Promotion Authority, as well as Trade Adjustment Assistance, as a way to bring down the agreement entirely. They say the deal will hurt the middle class and lead to increased outsourcing of jobs and lowered environmental and labor standards.
   Supporters argue the TPP will set guidelines for shifting trade patterns that will take place with or without the United States’ input, rather than let other countries like China, who may have less stringent policies, lead the way and potentially make it more difficult for U.S. companies to compete in the global marketplace.
   “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,” Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said in a statement Thursday following the House vote.
   “We’re pleased the House passed TPA today and thank them for acting quickly to put this legislation on a path for approval by the President,” added Duggan. “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.”
   Political news outlet Politico referred to the move as “legislative maneuvering,” but said that it “could result in Obama approving the trade package before the July 4 recess.”
   Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union International, which represents transit worker is the U.S and Canada, went one step further, calling the House passage of TPA a “shameful legislative sleight-of-hand” that amounts to “selling out to corporate elites and their wealthy friends, while yet again abandoning working families.”
   “Only when the interests of American working people can be traded for massive corporate profits will the Republicans support this President’s legislative wishes,” Hanley said in a statement. “Those supporting this and voting for it are selling out the American people.”
   The trade bills represent one of the few times during the Obama presidency the White House and Republican leaders have worked together toward a common goal. Now, both will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to placate pro-trade Senate Democrats that linked the TPA and TAA together in the first place as well as anti-trade House Dems who voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program they have traditionally supported.
   According to Politico, Republican officials said Thursday the Senate will first vote on the fast-track bill next week, but they will need to win the support of at least 12 Senate Democrats in order to overcome a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would then begin the procedural process to add Trade Adjustment Assistance to another trade bill. That bill, which includes agreements to strengthen trade relations with Africa and Haiti, would then be subject to yet another vote in the House.
   If the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill does reach the House again, Republicans are hoping the Democrats that voted against it will change their minds now that it is no longer packaged with TPA. This may not be a foregone conclusion, however, as many Democrats and labor representatives have condemned the basic funding mechanisms of TAA, specifically taking issue with a reported $700 million portion of funding that will come from cuts to Medicare.
   In a recent letter to Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., along with 59 other House Democrats, urged the party leaders to both increase funding for TAA and refrain from cutting Medicare to do so.
   “American workers rely on Trade Adjustment Assistance when trade deals send jobs overseas. While it is clear we need Trade Adjustment Assistance, it is not clear why the offset should be extended budget limitations on Medicare, as proposed,” Ellison and Grijalva wrote in the letter. “More than 50 million seniors rely on Medicare; we should be investing in the trust fund, not using savings to fund other programs.
   “We ask that the current Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation change in two ways. We should find an offset to Trade Adjustment Assistance that does not cut from critical programs that working families rely on. We should also increase funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance to account for projected job losses due to big trade deals, and extend assistance to public sector workers who have lost their jobs.”

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