President Obama suffered a setback when the House of Representatives voted against a trade deal with Pacific nations. The move is also likely to affect European trade partnerships.
The US House of Representatives delivered a blow to President Barack Obama's goal of strengthening trade ties with Asia. In a dramatic vote, Obama's own Democrats, as well as many Republicans, rejected a program to give aid to workers who might lose their jobs as a result of proposed US trade deals with other countries. The measure was defeated in a 302-126 vote.
Immediately after the vote, however, the House actually passed a bill that would give Obama "Trade Promotion Authority" (TPA) to rapidly conclude the Pacific trade deal and send it to Congress for an up-or-down vote. But this was merely a show vote, as the earlier rejection of the workers aid measure would automatically put the brakes on the TPA.
The procedures demand that both measures need to pass the Senate as a package; if either of them fail in the House, neither will reach the president's desk. House Speaker John Boehner immediately re-introduced the worker-aid bill, which according to aides gives him 48 hours to bring it back to the floor for a fresh vote.
A procedural snafu?
The White House chalked up the failure to "another procedural snafu," and insisted the process was salvageable, and encouraged legislators to discuss the path forward.
A House Republican aide told reporters that Republican leaders hoped to try again next Tuesday to pass the worker-aid portion of the bill. This would allow the entire TPA legislation to be signed into law by Obama.
But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters he was "disappointed" with the result and warned Democrats that it was time to "seriously rethink" their position ahead of a possible new vote on the measure next week.
"We need to finish this job," McCarthy said. "While we have not had this authority, there have been 100 agreements, and America has been a part of zero."
The proposed law would allow Obama to finalize negotiations with 11 other Pacific Rim countries on what would be the largest trade agreement ever, a massive pact with Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Vietnam and others encompassing some 40 percent of all global commerce.
TTIP deal likely to be influenced
The vote would also affect another key trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is intended to facilitate free trade between the US and European Union member states. With talks on the future of TTIP lagging behind the now-stalling progress on TPA, Europe continues to monitor ongoing developments closely. Another rejection of the TPA will set a precedent for further negotiations on TTIP.
Trade is likely to remain a headline issue through the 2016 presidential campaign. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, hailed today's vote as "a victory for America's working people" and a "defeat for corporate America," which he accuses of outsourcing millions of jobs. Clinton has remained publicly neutral on the trade debate.
ss/bk (AFP, Reuters)