(Nikkei: June 19, 2015 – p. 2)
The opposition Republican Party has agreed to hold a second vote on a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill at the two chambers of Congress to ensure ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement can be finalized as soon as possible. To begin with, the House of Representatives passed the bill at a plenary session on June 18.
The Republicans gave up on the scenario of passing the TPA bill as part of a package with another related bill and came up with an alternative to put TPA to a vote alone to respond to opposition from the ruling Democratic Party, which wants to thwart the TPP. The tactic was conceived out of their desperation to bring the TPP talks to a conclusion. But the view is spreading that enacting the bill will not be easy. The Republicans may be forced to walk on thin ice.
TPA gives the president absolute authority in negotiating trade pacts. It is indispensable to TPP negotiations so the Congress can be prevented from amending the text of a trade pact after it is sealed.
The TPA portion [of the bill] was passed by the House on June 12, following approval by the Senate. The sticking point was that a labor rescue program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), hit a snag. TAA is due to expire at the end of September so the TAA bill was put to a vote together with the TPA bill for extension. The Democrats are, in principle, in favor of extending TAA, but a majority of them voted down the package legislation to reject the TPA bill.
House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders initially planned to hold a second vote on TAA by the end of July. But they feared that the plan could put the TPP agreement itself at risk, as it would not allow enough time to clinch a deal.
The Republican leaders on June 17 decided to separate TPA, an element essential to TPP, from the package bill and put it to a vote alone. They envisage passing it at the Senate as soon as it clears the House. If everything goes according to plan, it can be enacted by the House and the Senate within a week or so.
The TPA bill needs the endorsement of President Obama to be enacted. Though he stresses the “need for the passage of TAA,” he might end up signing the TPA alone to prioritize the TPP.
Resorting to the option of splitting up the two bills entails some risks. In the Senate, the plan may meet objection from Democrats who previously favored the package bill. They may argue that they cannot support the bill without TAA.
In fact, several Democrats in the Senate are already voicing their opposition. The passage of the bill requires three-fifth, or 60, of the votes in the chamber. The hurdle is higher than in the House.