The Fast Track trade authority package was rejected Friday because two years of effort by a vast corporate coalition, the White House and GOP leaders — and weeks of deals swapped for yes votes — could not assuage a majority in the House of Representatives facing constituents’ concerns that more of the same trade policy would kill more jobs, push down wages and open a Pandora’s box of other damaging consequences.
Proponents of Fast Tracking the almost-completed, controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) say they are coming back this week for another try. And the White House was on full tilt this weekend trying to pressure House Democrats to flip their votes.
But the path to enactment of Fast Track remains unclear, even as the corporate coalition, White House and GOP leaders remain hell bent on finding it.
To understand what comes next, it’s worth unpacking what exactly happened on Friday and how we got there.
The sum of it was that Byzantine procedural gimmicks designed to overcome what polls show is broad opposition to Fast Track by GOP, Democratic and Independent voters backfired.
Since the Fast Tracked 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement revealed what really was at stake with the arcane Nixon-era procedure, getting any Congress to delegate years of blank-check Fast Track authority has been a very hard sell. Since 1988, only Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush persuaded Congress to grant the multi-year Fast Track delegation President Barack Obama seeks. In 1998, 171 House Democrats and 71 GOP rejected President Bill Clinton’s request. As a result, Congress has only allowed Fast Track to go into effect for five of the past 21 years.
Given past trade pacts have resulted in significant American job loss, the small bloc of Democratic Senators willing to support Fast Track authority insisted the 2015 bill include an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). TAA is a program that provides retraining benefits for workers who lose their jobs to trade that was first enacted during the Kennedy administration. GOP leaders also had to make a promise, already broken, to win over the deciding bloc of Senate Democrats, that votes to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank would be scheduled before it expired at the end of June.