House to begin trade votes Thursday

The House will begin voting on trade legislation Thursday, setting up a high-stakes vote for Friday on a critical bill to give President Obama fast-track trade powers.

{mosads}The complicated process, laid out by GOP leadership late Wednesday, is designed to address objections from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about how the trade package would be structured on the floor.

On Thursday, the House will first take up a trade bill that includes new offsets to pay for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides aid to workers displaced by trade deals. Those funds, negotiated by Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would come from increased tax enforcement rather than through cuts to Medicare, which were part of the Senate-passed TAA bill.

Democrats, and some Republicans, including the GOP Doctor’s Caucus, had wanted to replace the Medicare cuts.

“This change should alleviate any remaining substantive or procedural concerns from all parties” on the Medicare issue, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote in a memo outlining the process.

By moving the first bill, a trade preferences measure that gives some countries special priority, the House will vote to scrap the Medicare provision before moving to other trade bills, he said. The preference bill will then head to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to quickly pass it.

The House then will vote on a rule to bring up TAA, the bill on fast-track — or trade promotion authority (TPA) — and a customs trade bill.

During Friday’s votes, there are at least two possible scenarios.

A failed vote on TAA would blow up the fast-track bill, because pro-trade Democrats say they won’t support TPA without the aid program.

If the TAA vote succeeds, the House will vote on TPA, which Obama says he needs to complete a massive trade deal among the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

Finally, the House will vote to convene a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences on the customs bill.

The GOP leadership’s decision to press forward on trade this week follows a flurry of last-minute discussions between Boehner and Pelosi. Democrats told Pelosi on Wednesday they were worried about casting a trade vote that included Medicare cuts, even if those cuts would be nullified by another vote.

Pelosi walked away Wednesday night without a deal to change the process. Boehner’s now rolling the dice with his new plan — which he says Pelosi first pitched — gambling that 218 Republican and Democratic votes will be there when the trade bills hit the floor Friday.

A Democratic aide familiar with the situation called it “factually inaccurate to say that House Republicans have addressed all Democratic concerns.” In a meeting on Tuesday, Pelosi informed Boehner that the TAA bill would not include aid for public sector employees.

“Labor unions are whipping members into a frenzy over the issue and this is very likely to be a major problem in getting significant House Democratic support for TAA,” the Democratic aide said.

Updated at 9:51 a.m.

Tags Boehner John Boehner Mitch McConnell
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