WASHINGTON — Where to now?
That is the question President Obama faces after the House on Friday derailed a major trade package and left his trade agenda in jeopardy.
The key on Friday was that the House rejected Trade Adjustment Assistance, a trade assistance program for workers displaced by trade, which defeated a package that linked presidential Trade Promotion Authority to TAA.
The White House and GOP leaders scrambled over the weekend to secure votes on TAA.
While a second vote on TAA has reportedly been slated for early this week, it is not clear if leaders will garner enough support to bring it to another vote.
A high-stakes political drama played out on Capitol Hill Friday. Although the House approved TPA on a vote of 219 to 211, the TAA program failed on a vote of 126 to 302. Under House rules, both pieces of legislation had to pass in order for the package to advance to the president’s desk for his signature.
TPA is seen as vital to completing negotiations on a Pacific Rim trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries. The authority allows Congress to set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but also limits lawmakers to an up or down vote on trade deals.
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said on Fox News Sunday that he is optimistic that President Obama will find the votes needed on TAA, traditionally a program they support, to pass the last element of the trade package with TPA and send it to the president’s desk.
But the GOP leadership will also needs some help from Republicans who voted against it the first time.
Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News, asked Ryan how realistic it is that they will get dozens of Democrats to vote in favor of TAA early this week after Friday’s defeat was so resounding, despite an appeal by Obama during a rare personal visit to Capitol Hill to lobby for the legislation.
“The heavy lifting is over,” Ryan said. “Trade Promotion Authority is the more difficult part—the heavy lift—it’s done and I’m very proud of House Republicans and pro-trade Democrats who delivered.
“We delivered big time,” Ryan said. “So the tough part is over. The heaving lifting is over, which is necessary. The Democrats abandoned their president – the leader of their party—in droves on a program that is part of this [trade package] that they have previously voted for unanimously and that they asked for as part of this process. To me it was stunning that they would do this to the leader of their party.
“The president has a lot of work to do with his own party to turn this around, to salvage this,” Ryan said. “I’m optimistic. I think that this can be salvaged because I think people are going to be realizing just how big the consequences are for American leadership, for whether or not America is going to lead in the global economy and write the rules, whether we are going to expand markets for more jobs or if we are just going to retreat.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was grilled by reporters in the daily press briefing Friday after the votes, insisted that the silver lining in the vote was passage of TPA, which had the support of 28 Democrats. He said the president and his senior officials would work over the weekend and into early this week to secure more votes.
“I think many people…assumed that it would be easier to pass trade adjustment assistance than it would be to pass Trade Promotion Authority,” Earnest said. “So the fact is, the hard part has gotten done. When it comes to making the case to Democrats about why they should support Trade Adjustment Assistance, we’ve got a really strong case to make. If they don’t act on it as early as next week, it’s going to expire at the end of September. This is a program that Democrats believe in; they unanimously supported it last time it was on the floor.”
Earnest called Friday’s defeat a “procedural snafu” and said he remains optimistic they will find the votes to pass TAA.
“I certainly wouldn’t rule out the ability of the Speaker of the House to convince even more Republicans to vote for Trade Adjustment Assistance,” he said. “We certainly believe that we can convince more Democrats to vote for a program that many of them have previously supported, and that our economists can demonstrate significantly benefits middle-class families all across the country. So we’ve got a strong case to make here because we’re not just talking about preventing this program from lapsing, we’re talking about significantly expanding it.”
On Friday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R,Ohio) called the vote on TAA “disappointing.”
“Republicans did our part and we remain committed to free trade because it is critical to creating jobs and growing our economy. I’m pleased that a bipartisan House majority supported Trade Promotion Authority,” Boehner said. “This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stock and move forward in a constructive fashion on behalf of the American people.”
While Obama refused to concede defeat, it remains unclear what the next step will be as a large swath of House Democrats voted against his agenda on Friday, forcing leaders to head back to the drawing board.
In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama praised the House for passing TPA and urged lawmakers to support TAA.
“On Friday, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to help the United States negotiate new trade deals that are both free and fair – deals that expand opportunity for our workers and our businesses alike. And that’s good. These kinds of trade deals say no to a race for the bottom, for lower wages and working conditions. They’re about starting a race to the top, for higher wages, and better working conditions, stronger environmental protections, and a smarter way to crack down on countries that break the rules of the global economy,” Obama said.
“But that’s not all we should be doing for our workers. Right now, something called Trade Adjustment Assistance provides vital support, like job-training and community college education, to tens of thousands of American workers each year who were hurt by past trade deals – the kind we’re not going to repeat again,” Obama said. “Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have voted to renew this initiative, but so far, the House of Representatives has chosen to let it expire in just a few months, leaving as many as 100,000 American workers on their own. For the sake of those workers, their families, and their communities, I urge those members of Congress who voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance to reconsider, and stand up for American workers.”
Industry groups, riding a wave of momentum after the Senate passed TPA and TAA, were disappointed by the turn of events on Friday, but encouraged by passage of TPA and said they would continue pressing the House to find a way to advance the trade agenda.
“We are extremely disappointed the House did not approve the trade package containing TPA,” said Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “The inability to pass TPA puts conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in jeopardy.”
TPP is a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact, while T-TIP is a proposed free trade deal between the U.S. and European Union.
Duggan urged lawmakers to “regroup” and pass the entire trade package.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, praised passage of TPA but also said she was disappointed by the defeat of the package Friday, although she said she remained optimistic.
“We are disappointed, however, that the failure to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation prevents the full trade legislation package from immediately going to the president so it can be signed into law,” Hughes said. We encourage members of the House of Representatives to work together to reach an agreement that will enact TPA into law.”
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said that the vote jeopardized final approval of TPA.
“The vote in the House of Representatives that puts final congressional passage of Trade Promotion Authority in jeopardy is a victory for those with a narrow agenda that puts petty politics ahead of people, while jeopardizing the futures of millions of men and women in America, both those with jobs striving to grow the middle class and those seeking jobs that can only come with a robust economy,” French said. “On behalf of our members, we thank every House member who voted for TPA. We appreciate the House and Senate leadership for working together over the past several months to develop this legislation that will create high-standard, 21st-century trade policy and will support the fashion and business communities.”