Last week’s House vote on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which passed 219-211, was no doubt confusing to many of our trading partners.  While a majority of the House supported TPA, as a majority of the Senate had last month, the TPA bill was politically and procedurally linked to another bill that would assist workers harmed by trade.   Democratic opposition to the worker assistance bill, which was resoundingly defeated 126-302, was even more confusing to our trading partners since, in the Senate, this bill was a precondition for Democratic support for TPA.

The House has just thrown the President’s trade agenda a lifeline. After agreeing earlier today on a new rule that delinks TPA from the worker assistance bill, the House has again voted in favor of TPA 218-208. Since a majority in both the House (on two occasions) and the Senate have now voted for TPA, there is hope that the White House and Congressional leaders can figure out a way to get TPA to the President’s desk while assuring passage also of the worker assistance bill.

TPA’s passage is critical to achieving the Administration’s goal of completing negotiations on a trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).  The twelve countries involved in TPP negotiations have patiently waited for the President to secure TPA so they could reach a final agreement with confidence that it would enjoy the procedural benefits of TPA, namely an expedited, up-or-down vote in the Congress.  Without TPA, it seems unlikely that our trading partners will be willing to put forward their best offers, let alone close the TPP agreement.  As with every trade negotiation, the most challenging issues facing TPP negotiators are left until the end.  The number of outstanding issues, however, are discreet enough that TPP negotiators believe they can close the agreement relatively soon after passage of TPA.

If the White House and Congressional leaders can now build upon today’s momentum and secure passage of TPA, our TPP trading partners will be patient a bit longer.  But without clarity and certainty, they may conclude that closing TPP will have to be left for the next President.