Capitol Hill: Another Go at the Trade Bill

Published on June 18, 2015

Within the last hour, the House voted by the narrowest margin possible, 218-205, to pass a re-drafted Trade Promotion Authority bill, which keeps alive the hopes of a fast track authorization for President Obama to negotiate the final terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade bill.

*** The House vote today, however, is only the first of three critical votes in the new legislative strategy, which was only mapped out last night by the Republican leadership and entails complicated procedural maneuvers to re-sequence and repackage the three parts of the original H.R. 1314, “Trade Act of 2015.” ***

*** Passing the high stakes trade bill will still require serious political heavy lifting by the leadership of both parties on a next round in the Senate and an even tougher vote in the House, both scheduled for next week. We think the repackaged trade bill is likely to pass, though barely, and assuming an all-out political effort. But, for now, the votes are too close to call. ***

A New Legislative Strategy

The new legislative strategy was mapped out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner after a series of phone calls with President Obama over the last few days to push the high stakes trade bill through Congress, before it breaks for the Fourth of July recess in two weeks.

As currently planned, the three-part trade bill — comprising the centerpiece Trade Promotion Authority, a Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, providing compensation and training for workers displaced by trade, and a Customs Preference bill, which provides some trade benefits to favored trading partner countries — is being repackaged and resequenced again with new votes, which started with the House vote to pass a standalone TPA bill as an amendment to H.R. 2146, an unrelated Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act.

The Senate is now set to take up the House TPA bill next week, but without the TAA bill that was essential to winning over 14 Senate Democrats when the original three-part trade bill was passed in the Senate several weeks ago.

Senate Democrats will also have to take Majority Leader McConnell at his word to put almost immediately the TAA to a floor vote, which will be repackaged with a Customs Preference bill. That is necessary in order for McConnell to keep the Senate Republicans all on board who voted for the original trade package but who are opposed to TAA.

Those two votes would be scheduled no later than the middle of next week.

The TPA bill, by then passed by both the House and Senate, would go to the President with the TAA/Customs bill going back to the House. President Obama is promising his fellow Democrats that he will not sign the TPA without the TAA and customs preference bills.

The key vote will then come in the House on the TAA/Customs bill, perhaps by the end of next week. The TAA was defeated last Friday 126 to 302 by a solid block of House Democrats, joined by 54 House Republican Tea Party populists, as a way to derail TPA, as one cannot pass without all three bills.

To overcome the Democrat and Tea Party opposition, House Speaker Boehner and the GOP House leadership will need to whip hard to win over at least two dozen House Republicans to provide a safer margin to pass the bill, and that is on the assumption of losing only a handful of the 28 Democrats who voted for the TAA last Friday.

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