A rare visit to Capitol Hill by President Barack Obama wasn't enough to bring House Democrats on board with a crucial companion bill for "fast-track" trade authority today. The House rejected the trade adjustment assistance bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 126 to 302 (roll call). A few minutes later, House members narrowly approved the other part of the trade legislation by 219 votes to 211 (roll call). However, the fast-track package can't reach Obama's desk without both parts clearing the lower chamber. David Dayen explained the significance of the votes well at Salon. I've enclosed excerpts from his analysis below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Dayen lays out several possible next steps for Congressional leaders who support giving Obama fast-track authority, with a view to approving a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Splitting the trade bill into two House votes was a gambit to let the trade adjustment assistance language pass with primarily Democratic support, while the fast-track language passed with primarily Republican support. As Dayen describes, the concept has worked for decades but didn't pan out today. Only 40 Democrats fell in line with Obama, while 144 voted against the trade adjustment assistance provisions, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Representative Steve King (IA-04) also voted against the trade adjustment assistance language, even as Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) were among the 86 Republicans to vote yes. All three Iowa Republicans were in the yes column on the subsequent vote for the fast-track language. Loebsack again voted no, as did all but 28 House Democrats. After the jump I've enclosed Blum's statement; I will update as needed with comments from the other Iowans in Congress.
Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the fast-track trade bill the U.S. Senate approved last month by 62 votes to 37 (roll call). They have consistently supported trade promotion authority for the president. In that Senate vote, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted for fast-track, while Rand Paul voted no, along with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
In case you missed it, I highly recommend State Representative Chuck Isenhart's warning that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws." Conservatives as well as progressives have reason to fear that outcome.
UPDATE: Added below more Iowa political reaction to these votes. House leaders will bring the trade adjustment assistance legislation up for another vote next week.
SECOND UPDATE: Added a statement from Monica Vernon, one of Blum's three Democratic challengers in IA-01. She opposes fast-track legislation.
Statement released by Representative Rod Blum, June 12 (emphasis in original):
WASHINGTON, DC - "Yesterday, I joined 178 Democrats and 33 Republicans in voting "no" on H.Res. 305, a procedural measure on the rules for consideration of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) by the House of Representatives. Though the current form of TPA does include Congressional oversight over the trade agreement process, I voted no because I believed the House should have taken more time to improve the bill by giving Congress additional oversight and strengthening protections for American workers and American jobs in any free trade agreement. The resolution passed the House by a 217 to 212 vote when 8 Democrats decided to vote "yes."
"Today, after reading the entire bill, I voted "yes" on TPA, which passed 219 - 211, for several reasons. First, TPA will force the Obama administration to finally make the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement completely public. All Americans should be able to view a trade agreement of this size and importance before it is enacted, and without TPA that would not happen. Second, TPA allows Congress to reject ANY trade agreements -- including TPP -- if the deal does not benefit America. Third, TPA gives Congress a seat at the table by including nearly 150 specific pro-America negotiating objectives for free trade agreements. If the Obama administration fails to achieve any of those objectives Congress can revoke TPA at any time.
"I also voted "yes" on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) today in conjunction with TPA. TAA, which failed 126 - 302, provides important benefits and access to retraining programs for American workers who have lost their jobs due to the impact of international trade so they can obtain the skills they need to get back in the workforce quickly. TAA is currently scheduled to be reconsidered by the House next week."
"Overall, I know trade is highly beneficial for America and for Iowa. In fact, 1 in 5 jobs in Iowa depend on trade, and opening up new world markets for Iowa products will drive up wages for Iowa workers and increase prosperity in our communities. 95% of the world's consumers live outside the United States, and good free trade agreements give American businesses access to those customers so they can sell more American products and hire more American workers. Further, America has a trade SURPLUS with countries with which we have free trade agreements, and a trade DEFICIT with countries with whom we have no free trade agreement."
Rod Blum is the Republican Congressman in Iowa's 1st District. He is a member of the Budget and Oversight & Government Reform Committees.
Progressive Democrats took their stand on trade adjustment assistance (TAA), a separate bill to "fast track" trade authority for the President, which the Senate linked together, so that they had to pass concurrently. TAA offers modest job training, income support and health insurance assistance to workers who lose their jobs from trade deals. It's not very effective, but it sounds good; Democrats who oppose trade deals can say that they at least got some help for workers.
TAA and fast track have passed together ever since the Trade Act of 1974. This is a Washington game where Democrats get to vote for TAA so Republicans don't have to. Republicans don't favor TAA because they see it as welfare.
That set up liberal Democrats as the deciding factor on whether Obama would get his fast-track trade authority. The President went to Capitol Hill to tell Democrats to "play it straight" on the vote. But voting for TAA as a sweetener for a policy most Democrats don't support is the opposite of playing it straight. It's a stupid game, and progressives finally decided not to play.
From the Des Moines Register's June 13 report by Christopher Doering of USA Today:
"TPA is not something I would vote for," said Loebsack, D-Iowa City, who voted against both bills. "I'm not going to be giving over my authority to the president of either party to go off and make trade agreements with other countries. That would be abdicating my responsibility as a congressman representing 770,000 Iowans." [...]
"This is a blow to American farmers, livestock producers, businesses, and workers," said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association. "We hope that both houses of Congress and the White House can quickly resolve their differences and find a path forward. It's time for Congress to put aside petty politics and stand up for American agriculture."
Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said he was hopeful Congress could still "find common ground" to approve TPA.
Without trade, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has said the state's unemployment rate would likely be higher, while agriculture, manufacturing and other industries in Iowa would be far less profitable. Jimmy Centers, a spokesman with the governor's office, said one in five jobs in Iowa depend on international trade and more than 3,300 Iowa companies exported goods to nearly 190 counties in 2013.
"Due to the importance of trade to Iowa's economy and the careers trade supports in our state, Gov. Branstad is hopeful the House will continue moving forward with this important legislation," Centers said.
June 12 press release from Monica Vernon's campaign:
MONICA VERNON RELEASES STATEMENT ON TODAY'S TRADE VOTE, OPPOSES FAST TRACK LEGISLATION
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon released a statement on today's trade vote in the U.S. House:
"Fast track legislation is a mistake. My hope is that the House's vote today means that no further action will be taken to pass it. Such legislation would not only further damage government transparency, but it would allow for unfair trade legislation that hurts Iowa's hard working families." said Monica Vernon.
"Our economic recovery is already fragile and for far too many families, getting into the middle class and staying there is an every day struggle. It should be Washington's job to fight for these families and Rod Blum and his Tea Party backers' continued support for these job-killing free trade agreements are the last thing we need. The hard-working Iowa families I represent count on us to not put their jobs at risk with such unfair legislation."
This statement follows a letter Vernon sent the White House on April 29th, urging President Obama not to sign on to the TPP.