Finance

House votes to clear first trade hurdle

The House on Thursday cleared the first of several trade hurdles, easily passing a trade preferences measure that includes changes aimed at quelling broader Democratic concerns. 
 
In the start of two days of high-tension trade votes, the House passed a measure 397-32 giving priority to trade with certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing economies that import their goods into the United States. 
 
Notably, the package contains a new funding mechanism for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill, as part of an agreement worked out late Wednesday between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
 
{mosads}House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed confidence that replacing the offset would help assuage concerns.
 
“We’ve reached a bipartisan compromise here. This fixes the concerns that members of both sides of the aisle,” Ryan said.
 
Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who has been leading efforts to convince fellow Democrats to support President Obama’s trade agenda, said the measure will ensure the offsets don’t “become a hurdle or a roadblock to advancing our trade agenda as a nation.”
 
“I think members of Congress need confidence that that offset has been fixed and paid for,” Kind said.
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested he would bring the preferences bill to the Senate quickly for a vote. 
 
A House Republican plan to complete the trade bills wobbled earlier this week when House Democrats expressed concern about the TAA offset that used a cut in Medicare funding to pay for the $450 million measure. 
 
The Boehner-Pelosi deal assures Democrats they won’t have to vote for Medicare cuts to pay for another preferred program.
 
Instead, the bill will be paid for by boosting certain tax provisions related to fraud and compliance. 
 
Efforts by the two leaders breathed life back into the possibility of passage of trade promotion authority, or fast-track, on Friday. 
 
Still, the TAA bill must pass the House on Friday to get a vote for fast-track, which wouldn’t allow Congress to amend trade deals negotiated by the president.
 
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Thursday he was still leaning against voting for fast-track, but said he would back the TAA measure. Other Democrats may follow suit.
 
Passage of the TAA legislation, a Democratic priority that funds a program to aid workers displaced by trade, is key to helping push through the president’s broader trade agenda, notably the fast-track legislation that has little Democratic support. 
 
The Senate passed its version of the fast-track trade bill last month.
 
Peter Schroeder contributed. 
 
Updated at 3:20 p.m.
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