House Republican leaders are mulling their options for forcing a vote on Trade Promotion Authority while saving reconsideration of Trade Adjustment Assistance for another day.
The Rules Committee could meet this week to establish parameters for floor consideration of TPA that, if approved, clears the way for President Barack Obama to negotiate a 12-nation Pacific trade deal. Sources close to conversations on both sides of the aisle confirmed to CQ Roll Call late Tuesday afternoon that the current strategy being discussed would involve bringing TPA up using a legislative vehicle that has already been passed by the House and amended by the Senate.
This maneuver, which has been used for other bills in the past, would allow the Senate, upon House passage, to consider the measure with a minimum number of procedural hurdles.
But there's no guarantee the gambit would work.
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Many Democrats on both sides of the Rotunda said previously they would only support TPA with TAA, a program that provides training for U.S. workers displaced by global trade agreements. The TAA bill was defeated last week by Democrats — some upset the bill didn't do enough, others who simply wanted to use the bill to sink TPA (neither bill could be sent to the president's desk without the other, since both came from the Senate to the House in a package).
Sources in the House suggested they could probably get Democrats to stay the course on TPA without the immediate promise of TAA, though there is little certainty.
"I think Orrin Hatch was the one who said TAA is the price to get TPA," said Rep. Luke Messer, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, referring to the Senate Finance chairman and Utah Republican. "I don't think anything about that has changed."
Messer added he thought it was a "fair request" for GOP leaders to give pro-trade Democrats assurances that they would hold a vote on TAA once TPA was passed. The House passed a rule a few hours earlier giving the chamber until the end of July to reconsider TAA.
The optics are murkier in the Senate.
Of the 14 Senate Democrats who voted for TPA, several of them, in hallway interviews with CQ Roll Call, were noncommittal Tuesday on what they would do in a scenario that doesn't include TAA. One of the "yes" votes, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was unequivocally opposed to passing TPA without TAA.
"I would say Trade Adjustment Assistance in my mind is critical to any trade agreement, and any process to reach a trade agreement," said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., who did not vote for TPA.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was committed to finding a path forward on trade.
"Obviously there was a malfunction over in the House on Friday that we all watched with great interest," he said. "We are not giving up. We still think there may be a path forward to get an achievement here that we would like to get as well as the president."
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Of course, the plan could work in the event House and Senate leadership can explain to the rank and file why passage of TPA would in no way preclude later passage of TAA.
In the current line of thinking, in the event TPA came over to the Senate in a standalone legislative vehicle, the Senate might attach TAA to the House-passed version of legislation to extend an existing African trade pact and establish broad trade preferences, otherwise known as the "preferences bill."
The House sought to cut down on the need to volley different iterations of the same bill back and forth by choosing to heavily amend one of the four trade bills passed first by the Senate, and chose the preferences bill because it has always been the least controversial. Notwithstanding other complications and developments, both chambers will need to form a conference committee to agree on a final product to send to the president.
With that in mind, House Democrats would no longer have any reason to block TAA as a tactic to stymie TPA, since TPA would be en route to the White House and TAA would be a part of legislation pending before both chambers.
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