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UPDATE: HOUSE PASSES PART OF TRADE PACKAGE, BUT GAME NOT OVER – SECOND VOTE EXPECTED TUESDAY
Updated 2:45 PM

 

 

 

By NWV News writer Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Pacific
June 15, 2015
� 2015 NewsWithViews.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. Congressional Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted Friday to reauthorize the controversial Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – also called "Fast-Track" – a mechanism that empowers President Obama and whoever succeeds him to negotiate "free trade" treaties and deals with foreign countries on behalf of Congress, but without congressional input or amendments. This would remain in effect for six years.

The count was 219 – 211, with 28 Democrats joining 191 Republicans to vote Yes Only 54 Republicans resisted pressure by the party's leadership and voted No. (Roll Call 362)

Republicans applauded when the count was announced, but information following was confusing. Headlines stated the Obama administration had suffered a major setback and suggested the TPA was "dead in the water."

"Key Obama-backed trade bill fails House Vote," declared CNBC.

"Democrats Deal Obama huge defeat on Trade," POLITICO announced, describing the event as a "staggering blow" to the president's trade agenda.

And The Hill told the world: "House deals humiliating blow to Obama."

The problem with the headlines is that they weren't referring to the TPA, but to a companion bill, passage of which is crucial to the Obama Trade package. This is made clear by the articles themselves. The Fast-Track provision remains very much alive.

Here's what happened.

Throughout the months of discussion, media attention has been centered largely on Fast Track. However, the complete 144-page package, called the Trade Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314), is comprised of two titles: the Trade Promotion Authority ("Fast Track") and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). This is a program that provides government aid and retraining to some workers who are laid off or forced to leave their jobs because of the impact of international trade deals.

Both are reauthorization's of pre-existing laws. The TPA has not been in effect since 2008, and the TAA expired last December. The problem Fast Track promoters faced is that congressional approval is required for both titles in order for the Trade Act itself to be signed into law.

"The two are linked, so if TAA doesn't pass, it puts a hold on both," Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters Thursday following a Democratic Caucus meeting. Levin said although he favored TAA, in order to stop TPA he would vote against the TAA.

"The main issue is TPA," he explained. "That's the main issue before us, and I think that remains to be the focus."

The House agreed Thursday to a GOP proposal to vote on each title separately. Strategists figured that Democrats would support the TAA and thereby assuring its passage, while Republicans would have the votes to carry the TPA, even though Democrats opposed it.

But it became apparent that many Democrats might be willing to break ranks and defy their own president if it meant stopping the TPA.

On Friday the House voted first on Title II: Trade Adjustment Assistance. The vote – 126 in favor, 302 against – effectively sunk the measure, and came following Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's announcement that she would be voting No. (Roll Call 361)

As reported by Eagle Forum: "Most Democrats voted against TAA in an effort to kill the whole trade package, and most Republicans opposed TAA as useless government spending. That left 86 Republicans who voted yes, either in support of more government spending or out of total commitment to moving President Obama's top current legislative priority, TPA."

With the TAA out of the way, the House moved moments later to the TPA, which is Title I of the proposed Trade Act, passing it by a slim 8-vote margin. This leaves the Fast Track provision in limbo. It's been approved, but cannot take effect – and that is critical to Obama's agenda.

Part of that agenda is passage of a trifecta of multi-national trade agreements, which critics characterize as "mega-treaties," though supporters dispute the term, saying they are "only" agreements. The concept of "agreements" is a creature of the Nixon administration, specifically designed to enable negotiators and the president to side-step the constitutional requirement that treaties must be ratified with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.

Once TPA/Fast Track is approved, first up for passage will be the massive, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which some critics characterize as a mega-treaty, although proponents insist it is "only" an agreement, and as such is not subject to the constitutional requirement that treaties be ratified with "advice and consent" of the Senate.

Besides the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, waiting in the wings are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and a new creation, the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA). If TPA is in effect, Congress will have no say in how any of these are drafted and finalized.

The Hill reports that the GOP is "on the offensive" -- attacking Democrats for scuttling the TAA and chastising President Obama for failing to bring recalcitrant representatives into line.

"We made it clear we're not just gonna shut this thing down because the president can't deliver on his side," Majority Whip Steve Scalese (R-La.) told reporters shortly after the vote.

Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP's point man on trade, said he was "proud" of the House Republicans and the 28 Democrats who "kept their word" and voted for fast-track.

"Now the president has some work to do yet in his party to complete the process," said Ryan. "And we hope they can get together and make sure that we finish this, so America is back leading."

Meanwhile, although the administration and its allies on Capitol Hill are attempting to rally support for the defeated TAA, grassroots groups beyond the Beltway – liberal, cconservative and libertarian -- have intensified their efforts to stop it once and for all.

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Eagle Forum, in a news update/alert, is urging opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the related TTIP and TISA "free-trade" agreements to "keep up the pressure" on Congress to reject the TAA second time, a measure which if passed would speed its already-approved fast-track companion – tthe TPA -- to the president's desk.

"Although the failure of TAA [on Friday] delays the process, Speaker Boehner has the power to bring TAA back to the floor next week," the alert warns. "The outcome of that vote will determine the fate of this trade package."

Selected Earlier Stories

1 - Sarah Foster: GOP Pushing Trade that Hands Power to President, Vote Expected Friday. June 11, 2015
2 -
Devvy Kidd: Boehner and McConnell Working to Kill Off America As We Know It: TPP. May 11, 2015
3 - Devvy Kidd: It's War: Stop the TPP and TAFTA. Jan. 26, 2014
4 - Scott Tips: The Flattening Forces of Globalization Continue to Advance. Sept. 14, 2014
5 - Scott Tips: The TransPacific Slam Job. Sept. 16, 2012

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Republicans applauded when the count was announced, but information following was confusing. Headlines stated the Obama administration had suffered a major setback and suggested the TPA was "dead in the water."

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