House ap­proves new fast-track trade mea­sure

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Lisa Mas­caro lisa.mas­caro@latimes.com

House Speaker John A. Boehner, above, over­comes skep­ti­cism from some in his GOP ma­jor­ity re­luc­tant to give Pres­i­dent Obama broader pow­ers.

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Obama’s am­bi­tious trade agenda was res­ur­rected Thurs­day as the Repub­li­can-led House over­came mostly Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to ap­prove a fast­track au­thor­ity bill that the ad­min­is­tra­tion says it needs to ne­go­ti­ate a sweep­ing 12na­tion Pa­cific trade deal.

The mea­sure, ac­cepted on a nar­row vote of 218-208, now goes to the Se­nate, where it will need to muster enough Demo­cratic votes to win pas­sage and be sent to the pres­i­dent’s desk.

The ef­fort comes nearly a week af­ter a pre­vi­ous at­tempt to ap­prove fast-track au­thor­ity was blocked by House Democrats con­cerned that the fi­nal trade deal would not do enough to pro­tect Amer­i­can work­ers.

The White House be­lieves that the trade deal is vi­tal to keep­ing the U.S. com­pet­i­tive and boost­ing eco­nomic growth. But the pro­longed de­bate has driven a wedge be­tween tra­di­tional Demo­cratic al­lies, forc­ing Obama to strike an al­liance with Repub­li­cans and busi­ness lead­ers against or­ga­nized la­bor and many lead­ers in his own party.

Only 28 House Democrats voted for the bill Thurs­day.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had to over­come skep­ti­cism from some in his Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity who were re­luc­tant to give Obama broader pow­ers or help the pres­i­dent score a po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment.

“Repub­li­cans are work­ing with Democrats in the House and Se­nate to pass trade pro­mo­tion au­thor­ity,” Boehner said Thurs­day. “Get­ting this work done is crit­i­cal to ex­pand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Amer­i­can work­ers and Amer­i­can-made goods.”

Though the House had nar­rowly ap­proved a sim­i­lar fast-track bill last week, it stalled when a com­pan­ion mea­sure pro­vid­ing worker-re­train­ing funds was de­feated.

The fast-track bill, known as Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity, would guar­an­tee that fu­ture trade deals, in­clud­ing the emerg­ing Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship, would re­ceive only a yes-or-no vote by Congress, with no amend­ments. The same pow­ers have been granted to past pres­i­dents and the au­thor­ity would ex­tend for more than five years into the next ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The fast-track bill moves next to the Se­nate, which also had passed a sim­i­lar mea­sure that in­cluded the re­train­ing fund­ing.

Se­nate votes are ex­pected next week, but fi­nal pas­sage re­mains in flux be- cause there are still dis­putes over the fu­ture of the re­train­ing funds, known as Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance, which would give help to Amer­i­can work­ers who lose their jobs to over­seas trade. Fund­ing on that pro­gram ex­pires Sept. 30.

Un­der the new plan, the Se­nate will con­sider the House-passed fast-track bill and, if ap­proved, send it to Obama for his sig­na­ture. Sep­a­rately, the Se­nate will vote on the re­train­ing as­sis­tance mea­sure, which would be added to a re­lated trade bill that gives trade pref­er­ences to sub-Sa­ha­ran African na­tions. Then that leg­is­la­tion would need to be ap­proved by the House.

Obama prefers that both bills ar­rive at the same time, but the White House has re­sisted say­ing he would not sign the fast-track Trade Pro­mo­tion Au­thor­ity bill into law with­out the worker re­train­ing mea­sure. Democrats are skep­ti­cal.

“I don’t see a path right now” for Trade Ad­just­ment As­sis­tance, warned Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (DSan Fran­cisco), who scut­tled the trade pack­age last week in a stun­ning re­buke to Obama’s agenda.

Of the 14 Demo­cratic sen­a­tors who have sup­ported fast-track, many were cool to the new strat­egy, de­spite field­ing phone calls from the pres­i­dent and at­tend­ing a meet­ing at the White House with Obama this week.

Mem­bers of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus warned against us­ing the Africa trade bill to carry the worker as­sis­tance pro­gram that most Repub­li­cans re­ject as gov­ern­ment waste. They fear both could be re­jected. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los An­ge­les) was among the CBC lead­ers op­pos­ing the ef­fort.

Other Democrats pre­dicted that nei­ther the Congress nor the White House would al­low the re­train­ing funds to be left be­hind.

Mark Wil­son Getty Im­ages

Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Im­ages

DE­MON­STRA­TORS on Capi­tol Hill protest leg­is­la­tion to give Pres­i­dent Obama fast-track au­thor­ity the ad­min­is­tra­tion says he needs to ne­go­ti­ate trade deals.

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