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House Vote Disrupts Congressional Action on SFIA-Backed Trade Legislation

Date: 6/17/15

House Democrats took advantage of an opportunity to temporarily derail the Senate-passed trade promotion authority (TPA) bill (H.R. 1314) by voting down the bill’s trade adjustment assistance (TAA) provision in a 126-302 vote on June 12.  Under a “dividing the question” voting procedure, House leaders had broken the Senate-passed TPA/TAA bill into separate votes on the two components, and both votes needed to succeed for the bill to pass.

The dagger for the TAA vote came when, at the end of the floor debate, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she would be voting against TAA, thereby giving cover to other Democrats to vote against TAA even though they support the trade adjustment assistance program.  Pelosi’s move came notwithstanding President Obama’s trip to Capitol Hill that morning to meet with her and fellow Democrats, and numerous other entreaties by the president.

Even though the failed vote on TAA killed the ability to pass the combined TPA/TAA bill at that time, House leaders went ahead and held a vote on the TPA portion anyway.  In a vote that bodes well for future maneuvering, TPA passed by a 219-211 margin.  The customs/trade enforcement bill (H.R. 644) then was passed in a 240-190 vote.  The previous day, the House approved the GSP/trade preferences bill (H.R. 1295) in a 397-32 vote.

Following the unsuccessful TAA vote, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) offered a motion to reconsider the vote.  A vote on that motion could occur as early as June 16 and, if successful, there then would be a repeat vote on TAA (the motion to reconsider must be voted on within two legislative days, but a rule may be adopted allowing the Speaker to bring up the motion at any time).  Some deal-making will need to happen in the interim for this "Plan A" strategy to be successful.

Other strategies are under consideration.  One would have the House vote on TPA as a stand-alone bill, i.e., without the TAA provision that the Senate attached to it.  If that vote were successful, the Senate would then need to garner 60 votes to pass the standalone bill or the differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills would need to be decided in conference.

Given the strong vote on TPA (the issue is considered so controversial that even a meagre 8-vote margin is considered strong), House leaders remain determined to find a way to get TPA through Congress in the near term. 

Because the House made changes in the Senate-passed GSP/trade preferences and customs reauthorization/trade enforcement bills, both bills will now return to the Senate for final approval.  For the moment, however, House leaders are keeping both bills at the desk in the House, thereby delaying their transmission to the Senate, until the path for moving forward on TPA becomes clearer. 

As reported, TPA is important to SFIA members because it is a practical necessity to securing congressional approval of the soon-to-be-completed TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and a later U.S.-EU TTIP agreement, as well as any other major trade agreement such as a possible Doha Round WTO agreement. 

The trade preferences bill would extend the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences, which provides duty-free treatment for 140 beneficiary developing countries for nearly all dutiable categories of sporting goods equipment, until December 31, 2017.  The extension would be retroactive to the program’s July 31, 2013 expiration.  The bill would also extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act and two Haiti-specific preferential programs.  In addition, the bill includes a provision that would allow the filing of petitions requesting that travel goods (including such items as gym bags) of textiles or leather be added to GSP eligibility, and provisions reclassifying water-resistant performance footwear and recreational performance outerwear.

The customs reauthorization/trade enforcement bill addresses various aspects of U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s trade facilitation and trade enforcement responsibilities.  The Senate-passed version of the bill includes, inter alia, a provision that would establish a revised miscellaneous tariff bill (MTB) process that would originate with the filing of duty suspension requests with the U.S. International Trade Commission.  Although the provision is intended to address the concerns of some Members that duty suspensions are akin to earmarks, the House leadership felt those concerns were not adequately addressed and it removed the MTB provision from the House-passed version of the bill, meaning the provision’s fate has yet to be decided.

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