Fast-Track survives a scare, vote set for Friday

Stop-TPPThe pending vote on fast-track authorization for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on Friday survived today by one vote on a procedural rule vote.

Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon and his so-called House Freedom Caucus of far-right conservatives did not support the GOP leadership’s rule, and eight pro-free trade Democrats had to switch their vote to save the procedural rule.

The Hill reports, Trade bill survives scare:

President Obama’s trade agenda survived a bad scare in the House on Thursday when the GOP rule governing debate for the package narrowly survived a 217-212 vote.

Thirty-four Republicans voted against the rule, while eight Democrats backed it.

A handful of pro-free trade Democrats withheld their votes, watching the tally closely from the floor. Then, when it was apparent Republicans would not be able to pass the typically partisan measure on its own, they threw their votes in favor all at once.

The tight vote foreshadows the challenge GOP leaders will face Friday, when the House votes on two critical pieces of Obama’s trade agenda: fast-track authority and a separate bill offering help to workers displaced by trade.

GOP opposition to the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, as well as to fast-track, led Republicans to oppose their party’s rule.

Votes on House rules are tests of party discipline. Democrats traditionally vote against rules brought up by the House GOP.

House Republicans could only lose 26 of their own for the rule to pass without help from Democrats. Had the rule failed, the House would not have been able to debate and vote on the trade bills.

The eight Democrats who saved the trade package were Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), John Delaney (Md.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Ron Kind (Wis.) and Rick Larsen (Wash.).

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Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, earlier on Thursday predicted the rule might be in trouble because conservatives were unhappy with the way the bills were structured.

“I think the rule vote is going to be very, very telling. I think there are a lot of members of the Freedom Caucus that may not be supportive of the rule,” Salmon said in an interview with The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper.

The House is now set to vote Friday evening on fast-track trade authority for President Obama. The outcome remains uncertain.  Trade vote cliff-hanger for Obama:

House GOP leaders and the Obama administration are scrambling to win over lawmakers in both parties ahead of two critical trade votes on Friday.

Last-second Democratic threats to vote down a bill granting aid to workers displaced by trade is threatening the larger package, and lawmakers in both parties say the outcome is in doubt.

The White House late Thursday was pleading with Democrats to back Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program that traditionally has had more support from Democrats than the GOP.

Because of possible Democratic defections, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Texas) said the GOP whip team may have to approach some anti-TAA Republicans and ask them to vote in favor.

“I think Democrats are playing games with it right now. We’re in a situation where people are willing to cut off their nose to spite their face,” Cole, a deputy whip, told The Hill. “Liberal, pro-trade union Democrats are breaking ranks and destroying a program that they fought to create because they’re so much against TPA [trade promotion authority].”

The complicated path that GOP leaders and the White House are walking was highlighted Thursday night, when a House rule governing the debate narrowly passed — and only because eight Democrats broke ranks and supported it.

That rule sets up votes on both TPA, also known as fast-track, and TAA on Friday. If the TAA bill is defeated, however, there won’t even be a vote on fast-track and the whole package will collapse.

That has created an incentive for Democrats opposed to fast-track to vote against TAA, in the hopes it will drag the entire package down.

Some pro-trade Democrats expressed frustration with the threat.

“Certain people argued that this is the mechanism to kill TPA, and that that’s worth doing,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who favors fast-track. “Other people pointed out that that’s a terribly cynical gamble.”

Cole said he felt good about the TAA vote but conceded “it will be tricky and it will be close.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who supports the entire trade package, said he had serious concerns the TAA vote could fail. But he was confident Democrats would bear the blame if they voted to kill the trade package.

“We cannot pass this all by ourselves,” Sessions said. “If we’re for it and they’re against, you can tell who gets blamed.”

It’s unclear how many Democrats might vote against TAA, but the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Thursday sent a letter to party leaders signed by 77 lawmakers, urging them to rework the TAA bill.

While the letter did not say these members would definitely oppose the TAA bill as is, it suggests there could be a significant faction of Democrats with concerns.

With just hours to go before the critical votes, members in both parties were left with nothing but guesses on the final outcome.

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At the closed-door Democratic caucus meeting, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Democrats it was a “life or death” moment for TAA, according to an aide at the meeting.

Critics of the approach argued that Republicans, who mostly do not support TAA, would not bring up another vote on the program if this one were defeated, letting the program expire at the end of the year.

“The only people who care about this program is Democrats,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.). “It’s not a bill that Republicans wake up and want to put on the floor.”

But some Democrats opposed to fast-track legislation argue voting against TAA is the best way to defeat it.

Democrats are also under intense pressure from labor unions and other liberal groups to vote fast-track down.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka attended the same Democratic caucus meeting and urged Democrats to oppose the trade package.

Democrats are largely in favor of TAA, but some liberals have also griped that the program to be voted on Friday would not cover public sector union members.

House Republicans did not want to change the actual text of the TAA legislation already

passed by the Senate, because doing so would require sending it back to that chamber for another vote.

And despite a deal between Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that replaced cuts to Medicare as a way of paying for TAA, some liberals said the bill would still leave them exposed to charges that they voted to cut Medicare.

“That’s still unacceptable to many of us. It should be in the language of the TAA,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “It’s tortuous, it’s a gimmick, and we’re relying on people’s discretion.”

A major question heading into Friday’s tight votes is whether the TAA tactic is a last gasp effort by liberals desperate to put the brakes on fast-track or a growing movement by House Democrats unhappy enough with the process to vote against a program they almost exclusively favor.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), another fast-track backer, argued the anti-TAA forces were overblown.

“The feedback we’re getting seemed a lot more positive on the Democratic side in support of TAA than what the story’s being written,” he said. “We’re going to get it done.”

Still, some significant names announced they would oppose TAA, including Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and a top Democrat on trade.

Other Democrats insisted that voting to kill TAA would not defeat the fast-track bill — it could just slow it down.

“My understanding is that if the TAA is voted down tomorrow, it does not mean that [fast-track] will not be brought back up,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.). “The [fast-track] bill does not die, it can be brought back up again.”

Call your members of Congress before the Friday evening vote. Reps. Grijalva, Gallardo and Kirkpatrick are on record opposed to fast-track authorization, so call “Blue Dog” Kyrsten Sinema. Rep. Matt Salmon’s so-called House Freedom Caucus may vote against fast-track as well for a different reason: “We hate Barack Obama.”

h/t graphic: Bill Moyers, Let the Public Read the Completed Parts of the Trans-Pacific.

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