WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday may have saved President Obama’s signature trade bill, passing trade promotion authority in a 218-208 vote.
So-called “fast-track” authority has been characterized as a key negotiating tool in the ongoing talks over a Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. It would streamline trade talks: giving Congress a simple yes-or-no vote on trade deals, while vesting the primary negotiating powers in the hands of the president.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where Republicans in the upper chamber are still working to strike a deal with Democrats.
Fast-track authority has moved through the U.S. legislature in fits and starts. After senators passed the bill in late May, it met a crushing defeat in the House just last week, after members of the president’s own party torpedoed a workers’ aid bill. The bills had been packaged together and both measures needed to be approved in separate votes for the entire package to move forward.
House Democrats have been historically opposed to fast-track authority on the grounds that many of the trade deals fast track could bring to life, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will hurt the American working class, sending jobs and income overseas.
The president and Republicans, however, have argued fast-track authority gives the U.S. a competitive advantage negotiating trade deals and ensuring the country reaps the most reward from future pacts with other nations.
After Thursday’s House vote, fast track’s next hurdle lies on the Senate floor. The upper chamber previously approved a package that included both bills: TAA and TPA. Now that the two have been separated, Republicans must convince Democrats to back fast-track on the promise that the workers’ assistance bill will move forward on some later date.
Some in Congress were optimistic on fast track’s chances Thursday.
“The tough vote has already been taken,” Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., told reporters.
Others were less certain.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., warned fellow legislators in the Senate that repeating last week’s fiasco on the House floor would be an international embarrassment.
"It gives America credibility," Ryan is quoted in The Hill. "And boy, do we need credibility right now."
It’s been almost eight years since fast-track authority was last in effect. Before that, the president was granted the authority between 1975 and 1994 and again from 2002 through 2007.