Pelosi Reverses on Worker-Aid Plan as Fast Track Nears Passage

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she’ll back a worker-aid bill that she and other party members voted against two weeks ago in an unsuccessful effort to block President Barack Obama’s fast-track trade proposal.

The Senate plans to vote on final passage of the fast-track measure later Wednesday and send it to the president for his signature. The Senate also plans to pass the worker-assistance plan and return it to the House for a new vote.

In a letter to fellow Democrats on Wednesday, Pelosi of California said that this time she will support the program, known as Trade Assistance Authority.

Backing the worker-aid measure will “open the door” to a full debate on a 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership deal the Obama administration is negotiating, Pelosi said in the letter.

A Pacific agreement would be the first one to come under fast-track authority, which would let the president submit trade pacts to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. The bill has advanced as the result of an unusual alliance between Obama and Republicans, who agree with him that free trade agreements will boost the economy. Most Democrats say trade agreements have cost thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The $450 million worker-assistance measure would continue a federal program, scheduled to expire Sept. 30, that aids workers who lose their jobs because of trade agreements. Democrats have long supported the program, which isn’t popular among Republicans.

Bargaining Chip

Two weeks ago, Democrats voted against the worker-aid bill because it was connected to the fast-track proposal they wanted to defeat. The bills have since been split, and the fast-track measure, H.R. 2146, can be sent to Obama without extending the aid to workers. As a result, the worker-aid bill has lost its value as a bargaining chip for Democrats.

“I’m disappointed that the TAA bill isn’t nearly as robust as it should be in light of a trade agreement that encompasses 40 percent of the global economy,” wrote Pelosi.

She added, though, “I hope that the debate will be transparent and respectful of the role of Congress as defined in the Constitution” in approving trade agreements.

In her letter, Pelosi conceded that all House Democrats may not join her in backing the worker-assistance plan, H.R. 1295. One Democrat who opposed it before, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, said Wednesday he is inclined to support it this time.

If Democrats defeat the measure again “what we might get is just no TAA,” Ellison said.