Democratic members of the US House of Representatives blocked a vital legislation which would give President Barack Obama so called “fast-track” authorities to negotiate a 12-nation trade pact using a surprising political maneuver.
Overwhelming majority of the Democrats, 158 out of 188, including the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, combined with 144 Republicans to vote 302-126 against a extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a programme aimed at helping workers who lose their jobs as result of international trade agreements.
The programme was supported by the Democrats, who are backed by trade unions, but they voted against it to block Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which was tied to TAA.
The TPA, which would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, was actually accepted with a 219-211 vote, but it cannot become law, because to go into effect both pieces of legislation has to pass at the same time.
Obama, expecting a knife edge vote, paid a rare visit to Capitol Hill just hours before the vote to persuade his fellow Democrats to support his trade agenda but his efforts proved futile when Pelosi decided to vote against the legislation and urged her group to do the same.
“Slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the American people,” Pelosi said just before the vote announcing her opposition.
“Our people would rather have a job than trade assistance.”
Fast-track authority for the president would limit authority of lawmakers’ in Congress to a yes-or-no vote on the final version of the trade agreement stopping them of the ability to amend it.
Democrats claim that the TPP, a vast trade agreement bringing 12 countries on the Pacific rim including Japan, Canada and Mexico together, would cost American jobs encouraging businesses to move abroad.
If finalised, the TPP will create the largest free trade zone in the history bringing together countries making up 40 percent of the world’s economy.
The partners to TPP want Obama to get fast-track authority before finalising the negotiations to avoid the risk of the deal being amended in the US Congress after it is agreed by the leaders of the participating nations.
After the vote, Republican leader in the House said they can schedule a re-vote on the legislation as soon as Tuesday if Obama can turn enough democrats to support his plan.
Pelosi sent out a letter to her fellow Democrats just after the vote saying that the fast-track authority can be supported if Congress passes a measure to authorise a comprehensive infrastructure renovation plan that would create jobs for the Americans.
If the bill clears the votes in the House, Obama can sign it into law as right away since the Senate has already passed it with a 62-37 vote in May.