Senate approves worker assistance program defeated by the House

Senate approves worker assistance program defeated by the House
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The Senate on Wednesday approved a workers assistance program for people hurt by increased trade in a voice vote.

The vote on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program took place after the Senate voted 76-22 to advance the measure, which also includes trade preferences for African nations.

The trailer package will now go to the House, where Democrats defeated the TAA bill earlier this month in a bid to derail fast-track.

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The blowup in the lower chamber dealt President Obama a setback and kicked the trade debate back to the Senate, where pro-trade Democrats initially balked at delinking fast-track and TAA.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.) packaged TAA with the African Growth and Opportunity Act and a bill sponsored by Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Warren, Brown press IRS on study reviewing Free File program Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) empowering U.S. companies to petition the Commerce Department to address trade violations.

McConnell also showed Democrats a letter signed by Senate Republicans pledging to support TAA if fast-track passed.

Some Republicans would not have backed it otherwise.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the fourth-ranking Senate Democratic leader and a prominent member of a group of pro-trade Democrats, said assurances on TAA were vital.

“The request that we had and the resolution we wanted was to make sure that TAA and TPA were both passed and sent to the president,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Brown, who led Democratic opposition to fast-track, said the fight will shift to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation accord that will cover 40 percent of the globe’s gross domestic product.

“The next step is what happens with the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said on the floor before the vote. “We need to make sure that any deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes strong labor protections.”

He argues that it will likely give more power to tobacco companies to evade domestic laws restricting marketing to children.

Brown said he was not happy that his Leveling the Playing Field Act, which would strengthen anti-dumping and countervailing duty statues, was used to grease fast-track to passage.

“It was not something we wanted to see negotiated because it’s not a reason to vote for [fast-track], which is what McConnell apparently convinced some of my colleagues that it was,” he said. “I never asked for it.”

He noted that the proposal was included in the customs and enforcement bill passed by the Senate, which needs to be reconciled with a different version passed by the House.

House Democrats say they will not block TAA again because fast-track is already on its way to Obama’s desk.

"I’m disappointed that the TAA bill isn’t nearly as robust as it should be in light of a trade agreement that encompasses 40 percent of the global economy," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) wrote Wednesday in a "Dear Colleague" letter. 

"[But] while we may not all vote in the same manner on TAA, I will support its passage because it can open the door to a full debate on TPP," she added in reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

—Mike Lillis contributed to this report.