Obama’s Fast-Track Trade Bill to Get New Vote in House Thursday

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(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker John Boehner speaks about fast-track trade authority legislation and federal health-care policy. Republican Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, and Phil Roe of Tennessee, also speak at the news conference in Washington. (Source: Bloomberg)

The House plans to vote Thursday on a bill to revive President Barack Obama’ fast-track trade proposal, members were told Wednesday.

The Republican majority’s chief vote counter, Representative Steve Scalise, advised members of plans for the vote after leaders decided to attach the fast-track proposal, known as trade-promotion authority, to an unrelated bill.

The bill may pass, said Representative Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, depending on assurances from Republican leaders that a separate measure assisting workers displaced by trade also would be approved.

The Republican plan is designed to bypass House Democrats’ refusal on June 12 to pass the workers’ aid plan as a means of blocking the fast-track bill from going to Obama for his signature.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a joint statement that said, “We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature.” TAA is the worker-assistance program.

Most Republicans support the fast-track measure, sought by Obama to help his administration complete a Pacific Rim trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It would let the president submit trade pacts to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments.

The Republican plan would require the fast-track proposal to return to the Senate. The worker-assistance program, which expires Sept. 30, would be attached to another trade bill granting trade preferences to poorer countries, Kind said.

The fast-track and worker-aid measures passed the Senate in May as a single bill.

‘TAA Will Pass’

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, assured pro-fast track Democrats in a meeting Tuesday that the worker aid program, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, will become law, said Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.

“He said declaratively, ‘TAA will pass,’” Connolly told reporters.

While Democrats ordinarily support the aid for workers, many of them oppose fast-track on the grounds that trade deals have cost U.S. manufacturing jobs, and they used the procedural linkage between the two to stall fast track.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest stopped short of a veto threat if Republicans pass fast track without worker assistance, but said “it won’t come to that” because any bill will require Democratic support, and they want worker assistance.

“The only legislative strategy that the president will support is a strategy that results” in both the fast-track and worker-aid measures reaching Obama’s desk, Earnest said. Such a strategy “will require the support of Democrats in both the House and the Senate,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who led the rebellion against Friday’s trade votes, sidestepped a question Wednesday about the Republican proposals.

‘Changing It’

“I really don’t know what they are doing. They’ve changed it so many times. They keep changing it,” Pelosi said.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said Democrats will have to trust Republicans to allow a vote on the worker-assistance plan.

“As you know, trust is in short supply up here, but I am not sure what other option the president or the Democrats who are pro-trade have,” Cornyn said.

The Republicans strategy, which emerged Tuesday, adds the fast-track language to a separate bill that has already been passed by the House and amended by the Senate. The House would pass the bill again and return it to the Senate for a final vote.

The measure being used as the vehicle for that vote is a public-safety retirement bill, H.R. 2146, sponsored by Representative Dave Reichert, a Washington Republican. The measure passed the House 407-5 on May 12 and the Senate by voice vote on June 4.

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