Obama’s Trade Agenda in Jeopardy in House

US Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building.
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President Obama’s trade agenda is uncertain once again, as Democrats and Republicans in the House are digging in.

Speaker John Boehner plans to bring a package of trade bills up for a floor vote tomorrow, including the trade adjustment assistance and trade promotion authority. If the adjustment assistance deal is defeated, it is widely expected that trade promotion authority would fail too.

Sources told Footwear News earlier today that a crucial rules vote was in jeopardy today because some Republicans were unhappy with the willingness of the House leaders to compromise with Democrats. Other reports say Democrats can’t come to an agreement about whether to support either of the trade bills.

The House Democrats and Republicans are also stuck on trade adjustment assistance for U.S. workers impacted by trade deals. The assistance act, as proposed by the Senate, has been funded by taking money from Medicare, but Democrats are unwilling to accept that version of the deal.

“We’re feeling okay about where we are when we have to read the tea leaves with House leadership and what they’ve gauged with members since getting back,” said Matt Priest, president of the FDRA. “You have a scenario where the Democrat president and the Republican Congress and both really want this bill passed, and you have a Republican leadership a bit more willing to…collaborate.”

Since returning from the Memorial Day recess, House leaders have been going back and forth trying to secure votes for a procedural vote today and also for tomorrow’s expected floor vote on fast-track trade powers. The bill gives Obama the power to negotiate trade deals and present to Congress without amendment. Congress would still have the power to dictate aspects of the trade deals with other legislation.

The legislation is a crucial component of finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which President Obama has been negotiating over the past five years. The Pacific Partnership would help lessen footwear duties with 11 member nations.

House leaders have been hesitant to promise passage of fast-track in tomorrow’s vote. Leaders are still trying secure a number of votes as many Democrats and a few Republicans are not supporting fast-track powers. It’s a unique coalition as Congressional Republicans and the Democrat administration agree on trade.

One victory for Obama’s agenda was a 397-32 vote passage of the Trade Preferences Extension Act, which included a 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. As Africa becomes an increasingly important sourcing partner for footwear, the extension of the deal gives added benefits to companies doing business in Africa.

“Extension of the AGOA and the Haiti preferences program allows clothing and shoe companies to maintain business in those regions without disruption and with certainty that these key trade platforms will not expire,” said American Apparel and Footwear Association president Juanita Duggan.

The Senate will next have to approve the Preferences Act.