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Trade proponents turn to Plan B

Is the White House's trade agenda dead? Not just yet -- proponents ran into a brick wall on Friday, but they're moving forward on a backup plan.
The US Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
The US Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
After President Obama's trade agenda faced an important setback in the House on Friday, the stage was set for an important Round Two. On Tuesday, House Republican leaders announced, they would bring Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the floor for another key showdown.
That was supposed to be yesterday. Nothing happened. In fact, late Monday it was clear the policy wasn't close to having the necessary support, so it hardly came as a surprise when the vote was scrapped. Instead, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave the chamber another six weeks to figure something out.
So what's happens now? According to the Huffington Post, Vox, and others, congressional Republicans who agree with the White House on trade have a Plan B in mind.

Days after the House dealt a setback to President Barack Obama's trade agenda, GOP leadership is considering plowing ahead with stand-alone legislation that would give the president so-called fast-track authority to shepherd trade deals through Congress. The House could take up the fast-track bill as early as this week, two House GOP aides told The Huffington Post, after which it would be sent to the Senate.

This gets a little complicated, but stick with me, because it's important.
When the Senate passed its trade package with bipartisan support, it included two principal policies: (1) Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), better known as "fast track," which is intended to streamline the process on negotiating trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and (2) Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which helps provide financial assistance to American workers hurt by trade deals.
In the House, Boehner broke the package in two, in the hopes of passing both. Members would first vote on TAA, which Democrats support and Republicans oppose, and then on TPA, which Democrats oppose and Republicans support. House Dems, obviously aware of the strategy, voted to kill TAA, even though they like the policy, as a way of derailing the whole package. The House soon after approved TPA with largely Republican support.
But passing half the Senate package doesn't get the policy anywhere. The part the House passed could go back to the Senate for consideration, but very few Senate Democrats would go along.
All of which brings us to Plan B: the House will probably vote on TPA again quite soon -- it's necessary for procedural reasons -- without Trade Adjustment Assistance. This "clean" TPA bill would then go to the Senate, where Republican leaders plan to tell pro-trade Democrats, "Just help us pass fast-track now, and we totally promise we'll get back to TAA later. Sure, we don't actually like TAA, but we definitely won't screw you over."
In fact, Republicans are reportedly prepared to attach TAA to a separate trade bill, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which enjoys support from Republicans and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Jonathan Allen added that this entire approach "would require a lot of trust between the parties and the chambers, something that is in short supply in the Capitol most of the time."
Watch this space.