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U.S. House Votes To Buy Time For Obama's Trade Agenda

Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET

This afternoon, the U.S. House voted 236 to 189 to give itself six more weeks to sort out tangled legislation involving trade.

The House Republican leaders prodded their members to approve a rule change that extends time for a second vote on one part of a trade package. This portion, called Trade Adjustment Assistance, failed on Friday.

That outcome tripped up the entire package, which also would have granted Trade Promotion Authority to the president. Now lawmakers have until July 30 — just before the August recess — to try to find compromises to pass the entire package and get it to President Obama for his signature.

When that second vote might happen is far from clear at this point. Democrats were virtually united in opposing the six-week extension to reconsider the matter, even though that's what Obama wanted.

Our original post continues.

Even by the standards of gridlocked, intrigue-filled Washington, today's House vote to keep the trade agenda alive will be exceptionally complicated. But it's important to businesses and unions, so please hang with us.

To understand what's happening at about 1:15 pm ET, when the House is expected to hold a procedural vote to buy time to reach agreement on trade, let's retrace the steps that led us here.

1) President Obama, along with the Republican House and Senate leaders, want to restore the White House's "fast-track" negotiating authority. That power expired during the Bush administration, and Obama wants it back to have a fast track that leads to a simple yes-or-no vote on trade deals. This is called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA.

2) Unions and most Democrats worry that having TPA restored would allow Obama to complete a massive trade deal with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. This deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is still being negotiated. By killing TPA, the Democrats likely would kill TPP.

3) The Senate has approved TPA, as well as something called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program to help workers who might lose their jobs because of the trade deal.

4) The House leadership structured its version of the legislation into two parts — one dealing with TPA, and the other with TAA. The idea was that Democrats would vote for TAA and Republicans would vote for TPA so that together, they would complete the legislative package, matching the Senate — and the president could sign the whole thing into law. He'd get fast-track authority and displaced workers would get help.

5) On Friday, House Republicans did pass TPA. But Democrats had already voted against TAA, just to throw a stick into the spokes of the legislation that was rolling toward completion.

By now, you are chuckling at this alphabet mess: You need TAA to get TPA, which is needed to finish TPP.

With that out of the way, let's make everything even more complicated. Under the House rules, the leadership could try again to pass just TAA, which would complete that aforementioned legislative package. But the shot clock is about to expire. The re-vote has to happen today, or it all expires.

But on Capitol Hill, there's always another loophole or a trap door or a bookshelf that slides over to reveal a hidden room. And that's where we're at now.

At about 1:15 p.m., the House will vote on a rule change to extend the "Motion to Reconsider" for the TAA title of the fast-track legislative package. In other words, the House would give itself until July 30 to come up with some sort of compromise that would allow TAA to move forward, bringing TPA along with it and making it possible to finish TPP.

By now you are completely lost. So here's the bottom line: If the House votes YES today on this rule change, then the lawmakers will give themselves about six more weeks to figure out how to give the White House the fast-track power to move forward with the Asian trade deal.

Business groups desperately want that. Unions, on the other hand, desperately want to kill all of it right now.

So get out your popcorn and watch the drama play out this afternoon. Updates to follow.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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