The bill now moves to the Senate where its success will, in part, depend on whether pro-trade Democrats are confident that Congress will also soon be able to clear worker assistance legislation, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
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The president’s trade agenda was dealt a setback last week when House Democrats derailed the fast-track legislation by voting against the worker retraining program because they saw it as a ploy to force them to give tacit support for Obama to negotiate a trade agreement they oppose.
Under the new plan put in motion on Thursday by Republican leaders, Congress must pass the fast track and worker assistance bills separately.
To win the needed Democratic votes in both the House and Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have said they are committed to making sure both pieces of legislation make it to the president’s desk.
“I feel confident that with the assurances we have received from the Republican leadership that this body will again have the chance to [vote on] trade adjustment assistance,” Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), chairman of the largely pro-trade New Democrat Coalition, said on the floor Thursday.
Along with clearing the fast-track bill, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the Senate plans to attach a reauthorization of the worker assistance program to a package of trade preferences for Africa and send that legislation to the House in the coming days.
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Democratic votes will be needed to clear the TAA bill in the House.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that she would like a new dynamic for negotiating trade deals but stopped short of saying she would block the legislation.
“Our goal is to give workers more leverage and open more discussion,” Pelosi said. “This is where we are now, I recognize that in terms of the debate but this is a stale old debate.”
Democrats who oppose the pending trade deals, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), said they aren’t done fighting.
“We are not going softly into the dark night,” Ellison. “Trust is an issue.”