The process is likely to begin in the House Thursday, when the chamber plans to vote to give Obama fast-track trade authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade agreement in history. If it passes, McConnell would then take up the measure next week, hoping to win the support of at least a dozen Senate Democrats to send it to the president’s desk. The Senate would then amend a separate trade bill with Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to aid workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals.
The convoluted process is needed to surmount opposition from House Democrats, who last week blocked a program they support — TAA — in order to stop the larger trade package from getting to Obama’s desk. The Senate had passed a bill last month that included both the worker aid and negotiating authority, but further changes in the House have forced senators to take up the proposal again, prompting a whole new round of negotiating and posturing ahead of decisive votes in the coming days.
The entire process hinges on support from Senate and House Democrats who support free trade but insist that the government also provide aid and job training to help workers hurt by foreign trade. House Democrats, led by veteran Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, were eager to get the trade deal done, and were looking for assurances from their Senate counterparts. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, wanted a pledge from McConnell that he would clear TAA before they commit to voting for the fast-track bill.
In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, McConnell and Boehner began to provide some of those assurances.
“We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “And it is our intent to have a conference on the customs bill and complete that in a timely manner so that the President can sign it into law.”
At the White House Wednesday, pro-trade Democrats and Obama discussed the possibility of sticking together as a bloc so they can get TPA, TAA, a customs enforcement and perhaps an extension of the Export-Import Bank charter, which lapses at the end of the month.
“I and all the other members there are looking for a guarantee … for a deal to be good it’s got to have enforcement, TAA, I think it’s got to have Ex-Im reauthorization,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “A lot of [the meeting] was to talk about that very question of: What is a sufficient assurance?”
Yes, there’s a lot of votes that need to be delivered and yes a lot of Democrats don’t trust Republicans. But this feels like a familiar script, where Republicans are able to bring just enough votes with Democrats who really do want to support the president’s position and are more comfortable with supporting their corporate funders than American workers. I do have trouble seeing this many votes flipping today though.
The best move the anti-TPP coalition has is rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies. It’s considered the latter, by seeking to primary Democratic congressman Jim Costa, who comes from a district that should support workers but instead he is a pro-corporate and pro-TPP. If labor and greens want to express political power, punishing enemies who can be defeated is an important way to do it. Let’s see how it goes.