Without getting too down in the procedural weeds, just a little while ago, the House of Representatives effectively blocked “fast track authority” for the White House on trade deals — for now. There was a lot of political maneuvering, and apparently the President started pushing hard on Congressional Democrats to support the trade deals. Many thought the last minute push would make it happen, but with Nancy Pelosi saying that Congress needed to “slow down” fast track, fast track basically came off the table. Again, how this was done involved a lot of gamesmanship and technically a later vote on fast track actually passed very narrowly (219 to 211), but it doesn’t matter, because an earlier vote on a different, related measure, needed to pass as well, as the two issues were bundled together. After a bunch of confusing procedural moves, it appears that the House of Representatives will take another shot at this next week, but considering that the key provision went down by a 302 to 126 vote, a lot of arms need to be twisted in the next week and that may not be possible. If the vote next week fails, then things are extremely bleak for the future of “fast track” and the various trade agreements the USTR is pushing.
The whole setup was somewhat confusing, because that official 302 to 126 vote was against Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program for helping workers whose jobs are displaced by trade. Such a program is usually supported by Democrats, but was rejected here in order to block Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which was bundled with TAA on the Senate side. The later “show vote” for TPA is meaningless, because it would now need to go back to the Senate for a new vote, and the Senate won’t approve TPA without TAA. And, of course, all of this is needed for the USTR and Obama to get the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) approved. And, if you’re confused by the fact that TAA, TPA and TPP all sound sorta similar, don’t worry: that’s all on purpose to confuse the hell out of you and most of the rest of the public.
Rest assured, however, that what happened today was the House of Representatives pumping the brakes on trade agreements like the TPP, after months of really heavy pressure from the White House, which had really ramped up in the past few weeks and days. This is a big blow to the USTR’s program. It doesn’t mean the House won’t eventually get there, but it’s not going to be an easy path, and this certainly could put agreements like the TPP (and TTIP and TISA) at risk.