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What Really Happened With TPA Today

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a Trade Promotion Authority bill in a 218-208 vote, and now the fast track trade pact goes back to the Senate for another re-vote.

This version of the bill will provide Congress with new oversight responsibilities for pending trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and for certain other agreements.

“The United States can either be in a position where we can write the rules for the future trade agreements and develop closer bilateral tie was our negotiating partners, or we can sit on the sidelines,” Representative George Holding (R-N.C.) said in advance of the vote, according to a C-Span transcript of Thursday’s House session. “Passing TPA is about expanding our influence in a critical region of the world with the TPP and solidifying our alliance with our partners in Europe with the TPP.”

The expedited Congressional consideration of a trade agreement under Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, once passed, will allow President Obama to round out negotiations on the 12-nation TPP. Sources familiar with the matter expect the Senate to take up the bill as early as Tuesday for initial consideration and a final possible vote on Thursday next week.

Last week, the House approved TPA but rejected the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) portion of the bill, which allows for aid to workers displaced because of free trade agreements. With half of the bill voted down, TPA was stalled.

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On Tuesday, the House voted to allow itself six more weeks to settle the fast track discussion, though it really only needed days more than the 48 hours allowed after the Speaker of the House made a motion Friday to reconsider TPA. Without the vote for the extension, the bill would have failed entirely had the 48 hours passed without a decision.

On Thursday, the House instead attached TPA to a pension bill, the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act, a widely-supported bill that lets federal law enforcement officers and firefighters access their retirement savings without tax penalties once they reach age 50 and have served 20 years. TPA then passed in conjunction with the pension bill.

Now the House-approved TPA has to go back to the Senate for a vote and it is expected to pass, moving the bill to President Obama’s desk for a signature that will afford him the fast track authority he has been seeking to finalize his trade agenda.

So what will happen to TAA?

Some say the Senate isn’t likely to pass today’s approved TPA without TAA, because then the president will have the power to settle pending free trade agreements, and no guarantee will be in place to protect potentially displaced workers.

The Senate is now expected to attach TAA to the non-controversial Trade Preferences Extension Act—which the House approved in a 397-32 vote last Thursday—approve it that way, and pass it back to the House to vote on again. The Trade Preferences bill includes a 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), retroactive renewal and an update to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and an extension of the Haiti HELP/HOPE program. Sources indicate that the TAA/Preferences bill will move in the Senate next week with the TPA/Pension bill, with a final bill passed as early as Thursday afternoon.

“We urge the Senate to quickly consider the stand-alone TPA bill so it can move to the president’s desk for his signature. They should also finish work on other trade-related bills, including trade adjustment assistance and customs and preferences,” the National Retail Federation said in a statement Thursday. “The world is watching the U.S. Congress and our nation’s commitment to free and open trade.”

Footwear Retailers and Distributors of America (FDRA) president Matt Priest said passage of TPA, which is essential to completing the TPP, could save the U.S. footwear industry and American consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in costs each year.

“Our industry paid $2.7 billion in duties last year — more than $450 million from TPP partner countries alone,” he said. “As this legislation heads back to the Senate, FDRA will continue to lead the charge with congressional leaders to share our story and explain how TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strengthen and expand these jobs throughout the U.S.”