A very unexpected outcome during a series of votes on trade policy in the House of Representatives has managed to confuse pretty much everyone today.
The most important and controversial bill in the package was Trade Promotion Authority, which narrowly passed the House 219-211 with 28 Democrats in favor and 54 Republicans opposed. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) will enable the President to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and other) trade negotiations and submit a final agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
But in order for TPA to go to the President’s desk, the House must also pass Trade Adjustment Assistance. That’s because TAA was included together with TPA in the bill the Senate passed last month.
Normally, Democrats support TAA, which is an entitlement program for people whose jobs are displaced due to import competition. Many Republicans oppose TAA as a useless, big-government entitlement program. House leadership chose to hold two separate votes on TAA and TPA to prevent Republicans from voting no on the package out of opposition to TAA.
That strategy may have backfired. Because advancing TPA required passage of TAA, Democrats were able to scuttle the whole thing by voting no on TAA.
But it’s not over yet. Republican leadership is planning a do-over on the TAA vote in order to salvage TPA. So there’s likely going to be another vote on TAA early next week. In the meantime, Republican leadership and President Obama will be madly lobbying their respective party members to muster enough support.
For practical purposes, this result means that Congress has kicked the can down the road for a few more days. Today’s vote was definitely not a win for the President or GOP leadership, but they haven’t been defeated either. They can still pull out a victory if they can win enough votes next week to pass TAA—a bill that was defeated today by a solid 126-302.