House Extends Deadline for Considering Trade Package

June 16, 2015

pic-globe-export-tech.smOn June 16, the House gave Republican leadership and President Barack Obama until July 30 to figure out a way to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation by approving a floor rule on an unrelated fiscal 2016 Intelligence Authorization bill.

The rule H.Res. 315 for the Intelligence legislation (H.R. 2596) specifically included the period of time in which Republicans could act on a motion to reconsider the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill—the portion of the trade package (H.R. 1314) that faltered on June 12.

In a series of votes on Friday, the House was able to pass TPA, granting the president the authority to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without any amendments. The White House supports TPA and has said that its passage is crucial to successfully completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal currently being negotiated whose members comprise 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic production.

However, the House failed to pass by a vote of 126-302 TAA which was intended to aid workers who may lose jobs because of international trade deals. Though TPA passed narrowly, 219-211, it cannot go to the president’s desk without TAA because of the way the legislation was packaged.

House Democrats who managed to block TPA have said they remain united in their opposition and that Republican leaders should stop trying to find a way around them. These opponents are concerned about possible manufacturing job losses under new trade agreements, as well as currency manipulation, which countries use as a form of subsidy to keep their exports cheaper compared to U.S. products and environmental and labor standards.

Now that the House has an extension on reconsidering the trade package, the administration and Republican leaders are weighing all the possibilities and scenarios on how to secure enough votes for both TPA and TAA. One option being considered is combining the trade assistance and authority bills into a single bill for a new House vote. This would then require the Senate to vote again on the measures—the upper chamber passed the trade package on May 22 with a 62-37 vote. Or there could be a House-Senate conference committee that puts trade assistance in a Senate-passed trade preferences bill (H.R. 1295). The House also passed the same measure but with changes, which means a compromise would need to be reached in conference and then voted on by each chamber.

While the path forward is yet to be determined, some trade negotiators have already said that the conclusion of a TPP deal could be delayed for at least the next two years—until late 2017—if Congress is unable to pass TPA legislation in the next few weeks.