House plans vote to rescue Obama’s Pacific Rim trade pact
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try to revive legislation central to President Barack Obama’s Pacific Rim trade deal on Thursday by offering up a simpler version of a bill that failed dramatically last week.
The move represents a rapid course correction by Republican leaders and Obama, who both favor the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a keystone of the president’s push to strengthen American ties with Asia.
Under the new plan, lawmakers are expected to debate and vote on whether to give Obama “fast-track” authority to speed the 12-nation TPP through Congress, this time without a companion measure to renew an expiring program helping U.S. workers hurt by trade.
If the new bill succeeds in the House, it would have to win Senate approval as well, with a vote possibly coming next week.
An earlier bill that combined the two measures backfired last Friday when Democrats, who traditionally support the worker aid program, voted against it in order to stop the broader fast-track initiative.
Many Democrats, who have strong links to trade unions, fear trade deals such as the TPP will cost U.S. jobs as employers chase lower costs in signatory countries.
Obama has said that without the TPP, China would gain more influence than the United States in shaping regional trade rules.
Friday’s vote was a slap in the face for Obama, who had personally appealed to his fellow Democrats to support his trade agenda built around the TPP, which would stretch from Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to Canada, Mexico and Australia.
On Wednesday, House and Senate Republican leaders committed to pressing ahead with the worker aid program in a separate bill, although it was not clear whether that would be enough to keep Senate Democrats behind the initiative.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday that Obama is open to a legislative strategy that separates fast-track from worker aid, as long as both issues make it to his desk to be signed into law.
Under fast-track authority, the president can negotiate trade agreements, such as the TPP, knowing Congress can approve or reject the deals, but not amend them.
TPP partners such as Japan, the second-biggest economy in the pact after the United States, have said fast-track is vital to completing the TPP, as it gives trading partners confidence that deals will not be picked apart in Congress.
(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards, Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Alex Wilts; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Ken Wills)