US House passes fast-track trade legislation

Updated: 2015-06-19 09:45


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WASHINGTON - The US House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve the so-called fast-track trade legislation that is key to concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, a top priority of President Barack Obama's second-term agenda.

With a vote of 218 to 208, the House agreed to grant Obama the fast-track authority, formally known as trade promotion authority (TPA), to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without amendments.

This is the second time in a week the lower chamber has voted to approve the controversial trade bill, which will move to the Senate for a second vote.

The House passed the fast-track trade legislation on Friday with a vote of 219-211, but failed to approve a measure known as trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which provides relief for US workers who lose their jobs as a result of US trade deals with other countries.

As the TAA bill had been packaged with the fast-track trade legislation in last week's votes, both measures needed to be approved before reaching Obama's desk for becoming law.

Republican leaders in both chambers on Wednesday struck a deal to move forward the fast-track trade legislation and the TAA measure separately, and were committed to passing both measures.

"We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature," House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a joint statement.

But the Senate's final approval for the fast-track trade legislation is far from certain. It's still unknown whether the Senate currently has 60 votes to clear another procedure hurdle in the 100-member chamber with 54 Republicans usually in favor of free trade.

Analysts said the White House and Republicans will have to convince pro-trade Senate Democrats to back the fast-track trade legislation on the promise that the TAA measure will also be approved at a later time.

"The president has been clear that he wants both TPA and TAA at his desk for his signature as soon as possible," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Thursday at a press briefing. "The only strategy that we support moving through Congress is one that includes both of those pieces getting to his desk for his signature."

Schultz said Obama had "good, constructive" conversations on Wednesday night with House Democrats and Senate Democrats, and they felt confident that the "procedural snafus" that we've seen in Congress over the past few weeks "are in the process of getting untangled".

But analysts warned that it would become more difficult to move forward the Asia-Pacific trade deal, which covers 40 percent of the global economy, if Congress couldn't pass the fast-track trade legislation in the next few weeks.

Other TPP participants have signaled that they would like to put their best offers on the table and conclude the TPP trade talks only after the Obama administration has secured the TPA from Congress.