With a new Trade Promotion Authority bill now through the House chamber, and with its chances of passage in the Senate looking good, you might think House Democrats would be prepared to wave the white flag and pass a worker-aid bill they had been holding hostage.
But maybe the Trade Adjustment Assurance bill isn't such a sure thing. Speaker John A. Boehner is saying one thing. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is saying another.
What we have here, it seems, is a failure to communicate — or maybe something even stranger. The House passed TPA for the second time in a week Thursday. The reason it was able to move forward, and looks poised to move quickly in the Senate, is because GOP leadership in both chambers convinced pro-trade Democrats that TAA will be soon to follow.
Boehner Expects Amended Trade Bill Next Week
But those assurances don't seem to have done anything to convince Pelosi.
Shortly before the House held its re-vote on TPA, Pelosi was asked if she believed both TPA and TAA would pass.
"I can't predict that," Pelosi answered. "I don't see — I don't see a path right now for TAA."
That's a curious answer, considering how Republican leaders have explicitly said they intend to move TAA quickly.
Boehner reaffirmed that commitment Thursday, during his weekly on-camera news conference, just minutes after Pelosi questioned if TAA could pass.
Boehner made it clear TPA was headed for a vote in the Senate, and that a trade preferences package looked to be the vehicle for TAA. (Democrats have also worried that an African Growth and Opportunity Act could be a casualty of the efforts of stopping TPA .)
Pelosi Doesn't See Path for TAA Passage
Boehner said he was confident TPA would pass. "I'm also confident that the Senate considers both TPA again and Trade Adjustment Assistance as part of a preferences package that hopefully will be back here as soon as next week so we can move both of these to the president," the Ohio Republican said.
Boehner clarified that he thought the Senate would finish the trade preferences package by the end of next week, setting up House consideration for the week after, most likely.
But that seems to be the obstacle Pelosi sees for TAA. While there's overwhelming support for the AGOA bill, Pelosi seems to think attaching TAA could sink it, even though Democratic opposition to TAA is simply a way to stop the overall fast-track authority for trade, which appears headed to the president's desk.
Pelosi could very well be signaling that Democrats are prepared to continue blocking TAA, daring President Barack Obama to sign TPA without a TAA bill, but that gambit doesn't seem like it would be effective. Obama would simply need to sign TPA, and then Democrats would have no reason to block TAA.
Still, Pelosi might not see it that way. She was clear that she doesn't believe AGOA is the path for TAA. She and other Democrats just want AGOA to pass without amendments. "Let's just get that moving and done and not have it be part of any controversy," the California Democrat said Thursday.
But that controversy is a manufactured one. Democrats don't actually oppose TAA; they're just hanging onto the prospect of possibly blocking TPA with the worker aid bill.
And that may give even more weight to Boehner's words Thursday when he was asked if he felt "double-crossed" by Pelosi after she and the speaker had worked together on removing objections to the trade legislation.
Boehner noted that he had indeed worked with Pelosi on the trade offset and the sequencing of the bills. "But I think I'll just keep my comments to myself with regard to how I feel about the leader's actions," he said.
Asked what he had learned from the trade ordeal, Boehner said the last few weeks had been "close to bizarre."
"I don't think I've learned anything from it," he said.
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