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House cuts TAA loose, passes Fast Track

The Stand

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 18, 2015) — This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a standalone “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority bill that has, for the first time in the modern era of free-trade agreements, been decoupled from the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that assists American workers whose jobs are shipped overseas.

WA-congress-fast-track-yes-no_frontAs they did last week, Reps. Denny Heck, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith voted “no” on Fast Track today, but it narrowly passed 218-208.  Reps. Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer and Suzan DelBene again voted “yes,” alongside Republican Reps. Dave Reichert, Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

While Republican leaders say they will reauthorize the TAA program before it expires in September, there is now no guarantee that will happen. That means American workers who lose their jobs because their companies have shifted production overseas may lose access to the unemployment and retraining benefits available under the program.

“We are at the end of the second quarter and the score is tied 1-1. We look forward to the third and fourth quarters,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a statement released after the vote. “Workers’ resolve is firmer than ever. We will fight at every level and in every way to protect American workers and our economy by rejecting Fast Track and this corporate trade deal.”

To convince Democrats to pass Fast Track as a standalone bill, Republican leaders made a commitment to pass the TAA bill separately after Fast Track is approved. But given opposition from within their own ranks to the TAA program as wasteful, it is an open question whether GOP leaders can guarantee its passage. That’s why Senate Democrats previously insisted that that the TAA and Fast Track bills be coupled.

The standalone Fast Track bill now goes to the U.S. Senate where Republican leaders and President Obama are hoping for quick passage so the trade issue — which is very unpopular with voters — can be disposed of before the 2016 presidential primary season begins in earnest. A Senate vote on the standalone Fast Track bill could happen as soon as Monday, June 22.

Both Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray previously voted in favor of Fast Track when it was coupled with TAA. It passed 62-37 on May 22 after narrowly surviving a procedural vote that required a 60-vote majority.

Murray, the only member of the Senate Democratic leadership team who voted for Fast Track, said on Wednesday: “My position is really clear: We passed TPA and TAA in the Senate. We expect the House to do the same.”

The question is now, will Murray and Cantwell accept Republican leaders’ assurances rather than the actual passage of the TAA bill that they previously insisted upon?

Cantwell has already expressed some skepticism about whether passage of TAA can be assured, telling The New York Times, “There are a lot of ways that could be thwarted.”

Meanwhile, the Times points out:

All this delay could spell bad news for the president’s ultimate prize, the Trans-Pacific Partnership… Under the terms of the trade promotion legislation, Mr. Obama cannot even sign a completed Pacific trade deal for two months after negotiations conclude. Then the final accord must be made public for review and comment for two additional months before Congress can take it up.

That means even if Congress can complete the fast track bill before its July 4 recess, the actual trade accord could come before Congress late this fall at the earliest, when the presidential primary season will no doubt affect the debate. The politics of trade will only get more fierce then.

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