Cementing a victory for President Barack Obama on his trade agenda, the House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday providing financial aid and training for those workers displaced by global trade.
The trade adjustment assistance bill was approved easily 286-138, with the bulk of votes coming from House Democrats.
But less than two weeks ago many of those same Democrats blocked legislation to give the President fast track authority to negotiate trade deals and raised doubts about whether it could be resuscitated. That episode highlighted the party’s deep divisions on the issue of trade and delivered an embarrassing, although short term, blow for the President hours after he traveled to Capitol Hill and urged Democrats to stand with him.
In the end it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker John Boehner who rescued the President’s trade package.
The top Republicans came up with a new legislative strategy to divide the bill known as “trade promotion authority” from the worker assistance bill, and pass them separately through both chambers. The President insisted he wanted both components before he moved forward with talks on a trade deal.
Boehner touted that Republicans had delivered the TPA bill already to the President on Thursday, saying the legislation “will lead to more jobs and more opportunities for American workers.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who led the revolt against the President to defeat the initial package, admitted Thursday there was “some sense of relief” that the battle inside her own party was over on that issue.
But she called the battle over fast track legislation “phase one” in the trade debate. Pelosi pledged to “keep a very sharp, clear bright light focused” on the final details on the Trans Pacific Partnership deal the Administration was now negotiating with a dozen countries.
Progressive Democrats on Capitol Hill who opposed the fast track bill said they would team up with outside labor and environmental groups to pick apart the TPP. They warned if it failed to include adequate protections for workers and U.S. exports they would work to block it.
But under the new expedited rules Congress just approved, that trade pact only needs a simple majority to pass both the House and Senate so Republicans are in a position to pass TPP without any Democratic votes.
The President is expected to sign both the TPA and TAA measures soon. In a statement out Thursday afternoon following the vote, Obama applauded the “bipartisan majorities” who helped advance his trade agenda, saying it was all part of his plans to strengthen the economy.
“Of course, we still have more work to do on behalf of our workers, which is why I’ll continue to encourage Congress to pass robust trade enforcement legislation that will help us crack down on countries that break the rules,” Obama said in his statement. “But this week’s votes represent a much-needed win for hardworking American families.”