Despite major setbacks last week, Republican lawmakers Tuesday may have just saved a bill that would grant President Barack Obama unilateral trade powers.
“It’s still my hope we can still achieve what we set out to achieve together,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference according to The Associate Press.
Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track, has created a lot of tension between the president and many within his own party. The policy has also become one of the rare instances Obama and Republican lawmakers have been able to come together. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up- or down-vote.
Though fast-track has stalled for the moment, congressional leaders have a plan to eventually move it forward. The main problem supporters face is that the House version of the measure, which was passed Friday, does not match the Senate version. For the measures to match, the House must renew a worker protection program, known Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which they were unable to do.
“We’re looking for a way forward, and when we find one, we’ll let you know,” House Speaker John Boehner noted earlier in the day.
According to the National Journal, supporters plan to reintroduce fast-track and TAA in two separate parts in the hopes of passing them separately. While Republicans are more likely to support fast-track, Democrats may help advance TAA. Additionally lawmakers plan to extend the time period to act to the end of July.
The main issue for opponents is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Obama is currently negotiating with 11 other Pacific nations. Fast-Track would allow the president to much more easily pass the trade deal which opponents claim will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.
The White House, however, has argued the current trade negotiations with the backing of fast-track authority could vastly benefit American workers and the middle class. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, noted optimism with how the policy is going forward.
“Today’s move is a prudent one because primarily it would give members of the House and Senate additional time to consider the path forward,” Earnest told reporters. “And in this case, we are pleased that Democrats and Republicans appear to be working together to try to find this path.”
“The President has obviously identified this as an important priority, and the President was pleased to have the support of 28 Democrats who voted for trade promotion authority legislation at the end of last week,” he continued. “And we are looking forward to continuing to work with those Democrats to find this path forward, including by supporting efforts to create the additional time that’s necessary to find this path.”
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