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Fast Track Stumbles in the House

The House failed Friday to pass a complete Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that could be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate has already approved a bill that combines TPA with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which provides training for workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade agreements. The House voted on the two measures separately, soundly defeating TAA by a vote of 302 to 126, with more members of both political parties opposed. After the defeat of TAA, members narrowly approved TAA, 219 to 211, in a vote that was only symbolic because both TPA and TAA needed to be approved in order to send a bill from both chambers of Congress to the president. The House also approved a third bill that provides penalties for currency manipulation by trade partners, by a vote of 240 to 190.

The defeat came after President Obama met with House Democrats Friday morning, failing to convince many to vote for TAA. 

Before the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi explained that opposing TAA would stop TPA, also known as fast track. TPA isn’t a trade agreement but a law that grants the president the authority to send future agreements to Congress for an up or down vote without amendments. TPA is opposed by labor unions and environmentalists who are suspicious of the the Obama Administration’s secretive negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other nations on the Pacific Rim. Stopping TPA would prevent completion of the TPP talks.

Democrats normally support job training for displaced workers, but Pelosi said she could not vote for the TAA bill because House leaders didn’t allow amendments to the TPA bill and because the legislation considered Friday also bans future climate change agreements in any trade negotiations. 

“For these and other reasons I will be voting today to slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the American people,” Pelosi said before the vote.

Although the vote against TAA was a mainly a procedural way to block the entire TPA package, Pelosi summed up Democratic sentiment against moving forward with TPA. 

“As some of my colleagues have said, our people would rather have a job than training from trade adjustment,” she said.

Most farm groups favored passage of the TPA. National Farmers Union opposed it and after the vote released a statement from its president, Roger Johnson.

“Today’s vote was a clear signal that the fast-track authorities being negotiated for the president simply do not live up to their hype,” said Johnson. “NFU is hopeful this action gives Congress the time to rethink granting the president the ability to bypass Congress’s constitutional check on trade negotiations, an ability that has served as a major setback for America’s workers, family farmers, and ranchers and this nation’s future prosperity.”

 Johnson said that in the past, TPA has fast-tracked trade deals that have consistently increased trade deficits, exported jobs, and lowered wages for Americans.

House leaders will attempt for passage of TAA again next week, which gave hope to commodity groups like the American Soybean Association (ASA).

“The House’s disagreements over Trade Adjustment Assistance threaten to stand in the way of the fast-track authority we need to finalize an agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes vital export markets for U.S. soybeans and meat products, as well as the developing markets that grow in their demand for American soy every day,” said ASA president, Wade Cowan, a soybean farmer from Brownfield, Texas.  “With an administration empowered by TPA, we can also participate fully in the active crafting of agreements between the world’s major traders that has been going on — largely without us — since TPA lapsed in 2007.”

“Soybean farmers and indeed all of American agriculture has a critical stake in the global farm trade, and the House is to be commended for its work today, which helps to protect that stake,” Cowan said in a statement from ASA. “We call on Democrats and Republicans in the House to come together and resolve their differences on TAA so we can get back to the business of building strong relationships between American farmers and customers around the world.” 

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