Washington – Rep. Jim Himes on Thursday was the only Connecticut lawmaker to vote for a bill that would give President Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate a trade pact with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. He had cast a similar vote last week, but this time it counted.
“This will allow our negotiators to craft the best possible deal they can get on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and will ensure that the American public has access to the deal for months before Congress votes on it,” Himes, D-4th District, said.
But opponents of the proposed trade pact with Japan, Australia and nine other nations, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said they are not prepared to give up the fight.
“Fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership would depress American wages and send our jobs overseas, a fact that is equally as true now as it was yesterday,” DeLauro said. “This agreement is still a bad deal for millions of Americans, which is why we need a new trade paradigm for modern trade agreements.”
The 218-208 vote on the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which would limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on a final Trans-Pacific Partnership, was a do-over of a bill in the House last week. The vote on the fast track bill last week was considered moot because House rules required it to be coupled with legislation that would extend a worker training program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, that is set to expire on Sept. 30.
The Senate had approved both the fast track legislation and the worker training bill as a package.
But Democrats, who usually support the worker training program, joined a majority of Republicans last week to sink the TAA bill.
This time, House rules allowed the fast-track bill to be considered on its own, leaving the fate of the TAA program for another day.
“The TPA vote today did not come attached to a vote on extending the Trade Assistance Adjustment program, which retrains and supports America workers who lose their jobs to globalization,” Himes said. “I voted last week to extend a good Trade Adjustment Assistance package for six years, and that measure unfortunately failed. Moving forward, I share President Obama’s commitment to continuing this important program.”
On Wednesday, White House officials met with Himes and about two dozen other pro-trade Democrats who voted for fast track last week to ask them to take an even risker vote Thursday because the legislation would not be coupled to the worker training program popular with Democratic constituencies.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said most of those Democrat agreed to support fast track again “because we already voted for TAA last week.”
“It was the other Democrats who voted against extending the program,” he said.
DeLauro, a leader of the opposition against the fast-track bill and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voted against the TAA bill last week, as did Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. Their “no” votes were not an indication of their opposition to the TAA, but cast as a way to derail the fast-track bill.
When the White House was trying to persuade Democrats to vote for the TAA bill last week, it sent out a state-by-state breakdown on the number of workers in each state that are helped by the program.
The White House said nearly 9,000 displaced workers in Connecticut had benefited from TAA since the program was last reauthorized in 2009.
On Thursday, fast-track opponents decried the new legislative strategy used by Obama and congressional Republicans.
Today’s vote was a desperate procedural ploy that did little more than move the fast track debate to the Senate, where passage is far from certain. Multiple senators who supported fast track before have already expressed concerns…” DeLauro said. “As it stands today, a path forward for this legislation is unclear.”
Republicans and the White House will have to convince Senate Democrats to back fast track on the promise that the worker training bill will move forward at a later time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would take up the trade legislation in he Senate next week. He will need the support of at least a dozen Senate Democrats to send it to the president’s desk.
McConnell will not be able to count on the votes of Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., or Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who strongly oppose fast-track legislation.
Lori Pelletier, the head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said she would take her fight against the fast-track legislation to the Senate. Organized labor has led the opposition to the fast-track bill and the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it says the trade pact would result in job loses and lowered wages in the United States.
“Today’s vote in the House is a setback for working families in Connecticut and across the country, but the fight is not over,” Pelletier said. “We applaud the representatives who took a courageous stand for workers on this important issue…We will continue the fight for workers in the U.S. Senate where Connecticut is fortunate to have two champions in Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy.”