Strange U.S. House of Representatives Procedure For Passing TPP Trade Agreement

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives (the “lower” chamber of Congress) voted down a workers-aid bill called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).

It was a defeat for Obama that could be considered a win for Democrats.

Why did they vote it down? It was considered the only way to vote down “fast-track” trade authority for the TPP.

The TAA bill was rejected in a “lopsided” 126-302 vote, with only 40 Democrats and 86 Republicans voting yes, writes The Hill.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against it.  Voting down TAA is the only way to “slow down the fast track,” Pelosi declared.

The way they were set up, the TAA and the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) bills both had to pass in order to send a bill to the president.

The TPA is the “fast-track authority” bill.  Fast-track authority would make it easier to pass the TPP trade agreement (it would be passed on a yes/no vote as opposed to being changed and debated).

Pelosi’s support seemed pivotal.  According to The Guardian, “all of Obama’s efforts proved for naught after Pelosi took the floor and spoke out against the deal.”  She said: “While I’m a big supporter of TAA, if TAA slows down the fast track I am prepared to vote against TAA,” writes The Guardian.

So, it seems she was originally for the TAA and then turned against the deal.

The House then voted on and narrowly passed the fast-track bill (TPA), 219-211, with support from a large number of Republicans and 28 pro-trade Democrats.

This vote didn’t matter much, because, again, the package was structured in such as way that it couldn’t be sent to Obama’s desk without the TAA passing as well.

So, the TAA was shot down, and after that it doesn’t matter if the TPA bill was passed or not.

Interestingly, it’s not over. According to The Hill, House Republican leaders will put the TAA aid bill – traditionally favored by Democrats – on the floor again possibly Tuesday, hoping Obama can flip some “no” votes to “yes” over the weekend.

Obama’s press secretary tried to downplay the President’s loss (but the Democrats’ gain?).

According to The Hill, it’s unlikely the same bill (for the TAA) would produce a dramatically different result next week.

The Republican whip team said it had as many as 93 GOP votes at one point during the TAA roll call, but characterized it as close to the “high-water mark” for the party (in other words, they won’t get more than 93 Republicans to vote for the bill).

Ironically, on Friday morning, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team tried to encourage Republicans to vote for the “leftist” TAA. Again, if the TAA didn’t pass, then fast-track trade authority wouldn’t pass, either.

He made a surprise visit to the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park on Thursday. The TAA was already limping along at that point. In the Democrats’ dugout along the third baseline, Obama, sporting sunglasses, cracked jokes and posed for photos with lawmakers.

He didn’t mention trade to the players, but the issue was unavoidable. Fans sitting in the stands behind the Democrats held homemade signs reading: “VOTE NO TAA. NO FAST TRACK.”

Why didn’t the bills get more support?

The Hill states that Democratic critics were unhappy with an amendment that barred climate change provisions in trade deals.

There was also reportedly wording in one of the bills that stated that Medicare cuts were to be used to pay for the TAA. Critics complained that the way the trade bills were structured meant Democrats would still have to vote for Medicare cuts, even though they were eliminated in a separate trade bill. Voting for Medicare cuts, opponents argued, was tantamount to political suicide.

(Updated article)


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