WASHINGTON — Days after the House dealt a setback to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, GOP leadership is considering plowing ahead with stand-alone legislation that would give the president so-called fast-track authority to shepherd trade deals through Congress.
The House could take up the fast-track bill as early as this week, two House GOP aides told The Huffington Post, after which it would be sent to the Senate. The bill, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, would allow Obama to speed major trade deals, like the one he is currently negotiating with 11 Pacific nations, through Congress without filibuster threats or amendments.
The same fast-track bill passed the House on Friday by a vote of 219-211, with 28 Democrats voting in favor. But it was attached to legislation providing funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that aids workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals. An overwhelming majority of Democrats voted TAA down in an effort to kill Obama’s trade agenda, rendering the fast-track approval essentially irrelevant.
The votes appear to be there for the House to pass a “clean” version of the fast-track bill, without TAA. In order to bring up a clean bill, Republicans would send the original legislation back to the House Rules Committee to be changed.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hasn’t announced that this is the plan forward yet, but it appears all but certain. The House passed a resolution Tuesday giving itself until July 30 to bring up TAA again.
As rumors swirled about Boehner being ready to move forward with a stand-alone TPA bill, House Democrats initially scheduled an emergency caucus meeting for Wednesday morning, where pro-TPA Democrats were expected to try to garner support for the Republican strategy. That meeting was abruptly canceled late Tuesday after it was clear that the Rules Committee wasn’t meeting to set up a vote on a clean fast-track bill. The panel isn’t expected to meet until next week to set up the vote.
Boehner’s strategy, according to Democratic and Republican aides, is to pass the clean TPA bill and send it to the Senate, where lawmakers would then attach TAA to a separate trade bill for African countries, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The strategy behind the approach is to pressure members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support TAA this time around, since the controversial funding would now be tied to AGOA, which they support.
If House Republicans do pursue a stand-alone TPA bill, it won’t necessarily make matters better for the president’s trade agenda. Passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate. Obama has vowed to veto a fast-track bill unless TAA is also passed or attached. Obama’s trade package made it through the upper chamber last month, but TAA was attached.
Boehner met with a handful of pro-trade Democrats on Tuesday to talk about what approaches they could support.
“He just wanted to see where we were,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who attended the meeting. “To see what could be possible given his members, our members and the Senate.”