WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed a worker aid bill Thursday tethered to President Barack Obama's trade agenda, handing him another victory in his effort to conclude a massive Pacific trade pact.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill made its way to the president's desk one day after Congress passed the more controversial legislation that gives Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade pacts and send them to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
TAA, which was attached to legislation that also extends trade preference measures to Africa, easily passed the House, 286 votes to 138, after it cleared the Senate by voice vote.
A third part of the trade package, a customs measure aimed at reducing unfair trade practices, will be negotiated between the House and Senate, possibly next month.
Supporters argue that TAA has helped millions of workers that have been displaced by trade deals or globalization, and in principle it is widely backed by Democrats.
But it became a pawn in the broader battle over Obama's bid to secure the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an accord that would encompass 40% of global trade and signal one of the major economic achievements of his presidency.
House Democrats, concerned that the deal would fail to protect American workers or uphold environmental or rights standards, were able to block fast-track two weeks ago by voting down TAA, which was linked to TPA.
The White House and Republican leaders, desperate to get TPA to the president's desk, uncoupled the bills, with Congress passing TPA as a stand-alone measure ahead of the TAA vote.
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi had backed down from her opposition to the White House, saying Thursday it was time to "lower the heat of battle and have a real intellectual conversation about the impact of policy on people's lives."
But she insisted that Democrats would not shy away from rigorous pressure on U.S. negotiators to reach the best deal possible with America's trading partners.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015