The U.S. House of Representatives may try again Thursday to advance President Barack Obama’s ambitious Asia-Pacific free trade agenda by separating fast-track negotiating authority from a measure - aimed at helping American workers - that was voted down Friday.
The two pieces of legislation have been linked so both have to be approved before the president can sign them into law.
Now officials say it is possible they will be separated. The Republican-controlled House would vote again on the enhanced negotiating authority, but this time as stand alone legislation.
The measure to aid American workers who lost their jobs because of a trade pact, would then be voted on later.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the president can only support a strategy that would put both bills on his desk – but Earnest added, not necessarily at the same time.
“Now there’s also this fundamental question … about whether or not they have to arrive at the same time, on the same day, as part of the legislative vehicle or separately," he said. "That’s exactly what is being discussed on Capitol Hill…”
The situation places the president in a rare alliance with Republicans.
Many Democrats are concerned the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] trade deal would send more American jobs overseas and hurt the environment. The workers' aid piece was initially included to appease Democrats, who overwhelmingly voted it down Friday with some Republican help, as a way of scuttling the other part of the legislation, the fast-track authority.
Separating the two pieces of legislation would remove the incentive for Democrats to vote against it.
On Wednesday, both the Speaker of the House John Boehner and the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, reiterated their commitment to the trade legislation and to ensuring it gets sent to the president for his signature.
The fast-track authority would allow the White House to negotiate the 12-nation Asian trade pact and others like it while preventing Congress from making any changes in the deals when they come up for approval or rejection.
Refusal to grant the negotiating authority would make it much more difficult for the administration to secure the TPP deal, which already is years behind schedule.
The countries negotiating the TPP are the United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei and Australia. The U.S.-led pact aims to cover nearly 40 percent of global economic output when completed.
The White House has said the TPP would help further break down global trade barriers, open untapped markets, and grow the economy, while providing an important counterbalance to the growing economic strength of China.