WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives plans to bring legislation central to President Barack Obama’s Pacific Rim trade agreement back to the floor for debate on Thursday, giving lawmakers a chance to deal with it in a different format.
After a major setback last week, a measure that would give Obama “fast-track” authority over his 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement would be considered again by the House, under the plan hatched by Republican leaders.
If the strategy succeeds in the House, the Senate would also have to approve the legislation.
The House Rules Committee on Wednesday approved the rules for the debate. This time, the fast-track bill would be taken up on its own, not paired with another measure to renew an expiring aid program for workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals.
Last Friday, the combination of the two items in a single bill backfired dramatically. In an unusual procedure, the House narrowly approved fast-track, but overwhelmingly defeated the worker aid provision, stalling fast-track.
The vote was an embarrassing setback for Obama, who favors both measures. It revealed divisions with the Democratic Party over the president’s signature trade agreement, a keystone of his foreign policy shift to Asia.
Many Democrats and labor unions fear the TPP could cost American jobs as employers chase lower costs in signatory countries. Ahead of Friday’s vote, the AFL-CIO labor group urged Democrats to oppose the worker aid portion of the single bill as a way of defeating fast-track.
On Wednesday, House and Senate Republican leaders committed to breaking off the worker aid component and holding separate votes on it.
At the White House, in an effort to rally support within his own party, Obama met pro-trade Democrats, who arrived by bus ahead of a picnic for members of Congress.
Later, in remarks at the picnic, the president made reference to the tension over the issue without specifically mentioning trade.
“Obviously, democracy can be contentious,” Obama said. “There are times where people have deep principled disagreements, but I hope that events like today remind us that ultimately we’re all on the same team.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier that Obama is open to a legislative strategy that separates fast-track from worker aid, as long as both issues make it to his desk to be signed into law.
“The only legislative strategy that the president can support is one that will result in both pieces of legislation arriving at his desk,” Earnest said.
Obama reiterated that point in his meeting with lawmakers and thanked them for their support, the White House said in a statement after the meeting concluded.
Under fast-track authority, the president could negotiate trade agreements, such as the TPP, knowing Congress can approve or reject the deals, but not amend them.
Some details on the trade package have been released. .
Additional reporting by Julia Edwards and Jeff Mason; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler