Last week, the House rejected TAA, meaning that TPA wouldn't move forward, essentially dooming TPP. The fate of TTIP is a little less certain, but without TPA, the administration faces an uphill climb on that, too.

We complain when Congress cobbles together some hokey acronym like "CHARGE," 2013's Changing How America Reduces Greenhouse Emissions Act, or "Robo COP," the Robo Calls Off Phones Act. (There are many more examples.) But the onslaught of T** legislation — and the fact that the T in each often stands for "trade" — makes us dream of non-boring, somehow-related-to-the-topic-at-hand names for these programs.

In lieu of that, we figured we'd explain what they are.

TPA and TPP we've discussed before. Quoting ourselves:

First, there's the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. This is the actual trade deal that President Obama is hoping to secure with a number of countries, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. You can remember that TPP is the trade deal itself because TPP is like OPP, and the deal is all about getting other people's (manufactured) property. Specifically, the people of the Pacific Rim.
Then there's Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA. This is also known as "fast-track" authority because it gives the president the ability to negotiate a deal that will receive only an up-or-down vote in Congress. Without fast track, Congress can amend the terms of the deal. You can remember that TPA is "fast track" because when you T.P. a house, you are on the "fast track" to juvenile delinquency. Or you can just call it fast track, which is easier.

TPP is a major priority for the president. The deal itself is still being negotiated, and the components of it are therefore not yet public.* (There have been some drafts of an agreement that leaked, but those are necessarily out-of-date.) The main purpose is to facilitate the exchange of goods between the countries — including making it easier for American companies to do business across the Pacific.

In order to negotiate in good faith — meaning, to be able to commit to partners that the United States will uphold its end of the negotiated agreement — the administration wants TPA to pass. That way, it knows that Congress will perhaps reject the deal, but also won't insist that the entire thing be renegotiated to include some component that wasn't part of the administration's initial request.

An analogy might be helpful. If you and I agree that you'd buy my car for $5,000, and we shake hands, how would you feel if I then said, "And just so you know, my wife may want to keep the steering wheel/engine/seats because they have sentimental value. I'll let you know."

For opponents of TPP (and trade deals in general), TPA is risky. The president wants fast-track authority because it increases the odds that a deal will be finalized. Which is exactly why opponents (like organized labor) oppose it.

Okay. Back to TAA. TAA is Trade Adjustment Assistance. Trade adjustment assistance is a program that supports workers (and other individuals and firms) whose jobs have been "adversely affected by globalization," in the words of the White House. (You can remember it by saying it twice, as in, "taa-taa to American jobs!") In other words, it's a program meant to make trade deals more politically acceptable, by ensuring that if employers move jobs overseas as a result of the increased ease of doing so, there's something of a safety net.

TAA was extended through this fiscal year last December. It needs to be renewed to stay in effect.

This is where things get tricky. Democrats generally back TAA, but wanted changes in the current renewal. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) worked out a process in which TPA and TAA were linked in order to put together a package that could be signed by the president. (The Senate passed fast-track last month.) On Friday, the House rejected TAA, because it had become the point of leverage for the trade deal on the whole. (Remember: First, anti-trade Democrats wanted to kill TPA in order to block TPP. Now they killed TAA in order to block TPA.) The votes against TAA came from both sides of the aisle, since Republicans generally oppose it anyway. But the votes from Democrats — including Pelosi — doomed it.

What's next? TBD. This is still a priority for the president and for the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. Boehner could uncouple TAA and TPA, but that would mean the Senate would need to look at the whole thing again. TAA could be changed to meet the concerns of Democrats, but that's a tall order given their on-the-record opposition.

Looming over all of this is 2016. Passage of TPA would grant the president fast-track authority until 2018, which would benefit whoever the next president is. Republicans figure there's a good chance that person is a Republican. Hillary Clinton figures it might be her. But since she needs support from Democrats until the primaries are out of the way, she's siding with Pelosi.

We mentioned one other abbreviation: TTIP. What's TTIP? It's another trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Let's worry about that one some other time, shall we?

Thx.


* Think of it this way.

Negotiations are based on bottom lines. The United States has things that are nonnegotiable, as do the other countries at the table. The U.S. asks for more than its bottom line so that it has room to bargain; the other parties do as well. In other words, what each side asks for isn't necessarily the baseline of what it needs to get.

If every proposal were public, in the press and subject to political pressure, it would make it very difficult to retreat to the goals that the United States wanted in the first place — much less, to give up popular things to win something it considers important.