The last time President Obama visited Capitol Hill to lobby it was ahead of the health care vote. But his speech to his fellow Democrats ahead of a crucial trade vote Friday morning failed to provide the same result.
On Friday the House of Representatives brought up the Senate’s previously approved bill that offers Trade Promotion Authority to the President as well as a bill that offers Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The result was a mixed bag on how the House proceeds and a final bill gets to the President’s desk.
Both must pass before going to the president to be signed into law. Republicans motioned to reconsider the vote on TAA, which might occur early next week. The Senate passed these measures on May 23.
The TAA bill came up first, and because it was part of the Senate package has to be passed in conjunction with a TPA bill. The TAA vote - seen as the predecessor for a successful TPA vote - actually failed overwhelmingly by a vote of 126-302. The TAA program would provide training and other assistance to U.S. workers whose jobs are displaced by international trade. Republicans largely are unsupportive of the program because of the costs associated with it.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the Democrats vote to block one of the President’s top economic priorities was “simply unconscionable.”
Rather than seeing a complete defeat, the House Republicans moved forward on the vote for Trade Promotion Authority – inching a victory with 219 votes to 211 against. A total of 28 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while 54 Republicans voted against granting the President negotiating authority.
But for agriculture the mixed bag vote has serious consequences. It’s widely understood that ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have stalled out with Congress not acting on TPA. They know they can’t negotiate with 535 people and need to know that whatever is negotiated will hold up to just an up or down vote.
Agriculture relies more on trade than any other factor, with exports accounting for almost a third of total U.S. farm income. Trade also helps support almost one million American jobs in production agriculture and in related sectors like food processing and transportation. An estimated 95% of the world’s 7 billion consumers live outside of the U.S.
The United States exported almost as much beef, pork and poultry to the 20 nations with which we have free trade agreements as to the other 170 plus nations in the world combined, shared House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, in a floor speech.
Since 2007 when the last TPA expired, worldwide 100 trade agreements have gone into effect and the United States has been party to zero of them.
With an administration empowered by TPA, we can also participate fully in the active crafting of agreements between the world’s major traders that has been going on—largely without us—since TPA lapsed in 2007,” explained Wade Cowan, president for the American Soybean Association.
National Chicken Council president Mike Brown said, “The global economy is not the future. It is now. One in every five pounds of chicken in the U.S. is exported. One in three acres on American farms is planted for export. If job creation is the goal, we must have more trade. To have more trade, we need TPA.”
Failure to pass TPA, which effectively would be a vote against TPP, would send a signal to the world that the United States is turning its back on the Asia-Pacific region – the fastest growing area in the world – and allow other countries to write the rules for international trade, according to the National Pork Producers Council, which is leading the agricultural industry’s efforts to get TPA approved.
National Association of Wheat Growers president Brett Blakenship said those voting yes on Trade Promotion Authority “it was a courageous vote in favor of keeping American agriculture in the lead on international trade.”
Chip Bowling, National Corn Growers Association president, didn’t mince words when following the vote he released a statement which said the House’s inability to move forward with a full package of trade legislation was a blow to American farmers and livestock producers. “It is time for Congress to put aside petty politics and stand up for American agriculture,” he said.
There’s hope the House can find a path forward. It’s just a matter of whether there’s a political will and way to do that.