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Fast Track stalled in the House — for now

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 15, 2015) — Fast Track passed, but Fast Track failed.

On Friday, June 12, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives attempted to approve “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority sought by President Obama but opposed by most Democrats, most voters, and labor, environmental and consumer protection interests. Because the legislation was broken up into separate bills, the defeat of one key piece of legislation doomed the entire package.

WA-congress-fast-track-yes-no_frontHere’s how it played out.

As previously reported here at The Stand, from Washington state’s congressional delegation, Democratic Reps. Denny Heck, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith stood up for working families by voting “no” on Fast Track/TPA, but it narrowly passed 219-211. Reps. Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen joined all Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse and Dave Reichert in voting “yes” on Fast Track.

However, the trade package was defeated because it must also include reauthorization of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which offers assistance to workers who lose their jobs overseas and was reauthorized in the Senate-approved version of Fast Track legislation. The TAA bill was soundly defeated on a 126-302 vote.

Voting “No” on the TAA bill, a program generally supported by Democrats, was characterized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a vote to “slow down Fast Track,” which she argued had insufficient protections for workers’ rights and environmental protection. She called on fellow Democrats to vote “no” on TAA — as did the AFL-CIO.

mcdermott-jimOn that vote, the only “no” votes from Washington were McDermott and Newhouse (who supports Fast Track, but opposes the TAA program as a waste of money). The rest of our state’s delegation — curiously including Denny Heck and Adam Smith — voted “yes” on the TAA bill that would have advanced Fast Track had it passed. So only Rep. Jim McDermott voted with working families on both bills.

reichert-medicare-cutsThe door was opened to opposing the TAA bill by our own Rep. Dave Reichert, whose plan to cut $700 million from Medicare to help pay for TAA was included in the Senate-approved version. After the ensuing criticism and outcry over cutting Medicare, House Republican and Democratic negotiators agreed to eliminate Reichert’s Medicare cuts, but as reported in The Hill, the way the trade bills were structured meant Democrats would still have to vote for a TAA bill with Medicare cuts, which were eliminated in a separate bill. Voting for Medicare cuts, opponents argued, was tantamount to political suicide.

“When the pay-for was characterized by opponents as a Medicare cut, that became politically unpalatable” to many Democrats, Rep. Rick Larsen told The Hill. “Even though it was fixed, folks continued to use it as an excuse to oppose TAA.”

Larsen and other pro-Fast Track members suddenly found themselves pulling double duty, trying to convince fellow Democrats to support Fast Track while also keeping them from rejecting the TAA program they actually liked because it cut Medicare.

TAA-vote-HouseIn the end, only 40 of 188 Democrats — including Heck and Smith — voted “yes” on TAA. Most Republicans voted “no” because they oppose TAA aid as wasteful. So in the end, the TAA bill overwhelmingly failed.

House Republican leaders vow to bring the TAA up for another vote this week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday. They intend to use their bully pulpit against Democrats like McDermott who voted “no” on a TAA program they support. They will need to convince about 90 Democrats to switch their votes in order to succeed in passing the TAA bill. If they succeed and TAA passes, Obama will be able to sign Fast Track into law.

The AFL-CIO is urging all U.S. Representatives who voted “no” on TAA last Friday — and any Democrats like Denny Heck and Adam Smith who say they oppose Fast Track, but voted in favor of TAA — to vote “no” if it comes to another vote this week. Stay tuned.

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