Obama’s trade bill faces vote on Capitol Hill in show­down


A land­mark trade bill that tops U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sec­ond-term agenda faces a show­down vote in the House as Democrats mount a last-ditch ef­fort to kill it.

The out­come was un­cer­tain and the drama in­tense head­ing into Fri­day’s votes. In fran­tic 11th-hour ma­neu­ver­ing, lib­er­als in the House de­fied their own pres­i­dent and turned against a fa­vored pro­gram of their own that re­trains work­ers dis­placed by trade. Killing the pro­gram would kill the com­pan­ion trade bill, and many Democrats and la­bor lead­ers ad­vo­cated just that.

The trade author­ity is a top pri­or­ity for the pres­i­dent, who hopes to com­plete a ma­jor deal with 11 Pa­cific Area na­tions.

The move caught the Repub­li­cans off-guard. House Repub­li­cans, al­ready in the awk­ward po­si­tion of al­ly­ing them­selves with Obama, found them­selves be­ing asked by their lead­ers to vote for a worker re­train­ing pro­gram that most have long op­posed as waste­ful. Many were re­luc­tant to do so, leav­ing the fate of the en­tire pack­age up in the air, and Obama fac­ing the prospect of a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat at the hands of his own party mem­bers — un­less he can eke out what all pre­dict would be the nar­row­est of wins.

“If we have to pass some­thing that’s a Demo­cratic ideal with all Repub­li­cans to get the whole thing to go,” said Repub­li­can Rep. Tom Rooney, “we could be in trou­ble.”

The main trade bill at is­sue would give Obama so-called “fast track” author­ity to ne­go­ti­ate trade deals that Congress could ap­prove or re­ject, but not amend. He hopes to use the author­ity, al­ready agreed to by the Se­nate, to com­plete a sweep­ing pact with 11 other Pa­cific Rim na­tions which would con­sti­tute the eco­nomic cen­ter­piece of his sec­ond term. Obama says such a pact with Ja­pan, Mex­ico, Sin­ga­pore and other na­tions con­sti­tut­ing 40 per­cent of the global econ­omy would open up crit­i­cal new mar-

kets for Amer­i­can prod­ucts.

‘Col­lid­ing in­ter­ests’

Busi­ness groups like the Cham­ber of Com­merce crave the deal; la­bor unions are ar­dently op­posed, point­ing to job and wage losses from ear­lier trade pacts op­po­nents say never lived up to the hype from pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Those col­lid­ing in­ter­ests have pro­duced un­usual al­liances on Capitol Hill, with House Repub­li­cans work­ing to help a pres­i­dent they op­pose on nearly ev­ery other is­sue, and most Democrats work­ing against him.

Yet in a con­vo­luted se­ries of events Thurs­day, the fast-track bill, long the main event, seemed to fade in im­por­tance even as Repub­li­cans be­gan sound­ing con­fi­dent it would com­mand enough votes to pass. In­stead, Democrats be­gan eye­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of tak­ing down the re­lated Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance bill — a ma­neu­ver that would be made pos­si­ble only be­cause of how House lead­ers de­cided to link the two of them in rules gov­ern­ing how they would come to a vote.

Repub­li­cans said that the se­quenc­ing was determined at the be­hest of Demo­cratic House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, try­ing to main­tain lever­age, has re­mained non­com­mit­tal on the whole is­sue to the end, even as she worked be­hind the scenes with Repub­li­can House Speaker John Boehner this week to solve a last-minute hang-up in­volv­ing Demo­cratic con­cerns about cut­ting Medi­care funds to pay for worker re­train­ing.

The in­tri­cate so­lu­tion to the Medi­care is­sue lay in find­ing an­other rev­enue source —var­i­ous tax penal­ties — and also lining up the votes in a cer­tain or­der that made pas­sage of the fast-track bill con­tin­gent on pas­sage of the trade ad­just­ment bill. That cre­ated the open­ing for Demo­cratic fast-track op­po­nents to take aim at the trade ad­just­ment mea­sure.

“The TAA is the hand­maiden to fa­cil­i­tate the whole deal,” said Demo­cratic Rep. Peter DeFazio. “We have the po­ten­tial to stop this whole train.”

Fri­day’s out­come ap­pears to de­pend on how many Democrats de­fect on the trade ad­just­ment bill — and whether Repub­li­cans can make up their num­bers. The big­gest ques­tions hang­ing over the House late Thurs­day were: How many of the 188 Democrats will vote against TAA be­cause it’s the best way to kill fast track? And how many of the 246 Repub­li­cans might hold their noses and vote for the jobs pro­gram in a bid to save fast track?

The trade is­sue’s di­vi­sive­ness was ev­i­dent when the House voted nar­rowly, 217-212, on a pro­ce­dure Thurs­day to ad­vance the pack­age to Fri­day’s ex­pected show­down.


In this June 9, file photo, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks in Wash­ing­ton. A land­mark trade bill that tops Obama’s sec­ond-term agenda faces a show­down vote in the House as Democrats mount a last-ditch ef­fort to kill it.

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