obama laughing

Ever since the House rejected the Trade Adjustment Authority (TAA) bill, the House GOP leadership has been scheming for a way to pass the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) without the accompanying TAA.

House GOP leaders seeking to rebound after a surprise floor defeat on trade are zeroing in on a new strategy to grant President Obama fast-track authority.

The plan is to vote as soon as this week on the fast-track bill approved by the House on Friday but to leave aside a second part of the original package that was torpedoed by House Minority Leader [mc_name name=’Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000197′ ] (D-Calif.) and other Democrats.

Decoupling fast-track from a separate program granting aid to workers displaced by trade would put pressure on the Senate to pass the legislation, a top priority for Obama that would allow him to complete negotiations on a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.

If the House is successful, it will be up to Senate Majority Leader [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] (R-Ky.) to get the bill through the upper chamber.

This was always going to be a tough sell. Allowing a trade agreement to be negotiated with low wage, state controlled, and utterly opaque economies without some protections for US businesses destroyed and workers made unemployed wasn’t going to play well in attack ads in future campaigns.

There is little margin for error after last week’s stunning events in the House. Democrats, led by House Minority Leader [mc_name name=’Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000197′ ], moved to block a program they support — TAA — in order to prevent the fast-track trade bill from landing on Obama’s desk. But TAA is a bottom-line demand for the 14 Senate Democrats who voted last month to pass the fast-track bill, and Obama can only afford to lose two of those votes if he wants to see his priority enacted.

That makes the decision on how to sequence the votes in Congress a key consideration. Some top Republicans believe it makes sense to enact the fast-track bill first, prompting House Democrats to let TAA pass since it would be much harder at that point to use as leverage. But it’s no sure bet that Senate Democrats would go along with a vote on fast-track without immediate consideration of the worker aid package.

And Democrats were left a little puzzled as to how Boehner’s strategy would work:

As rumors swirled about Boehner being ready to move forward with a stand-alone TPA bill, House Democrats initially scheduled an emergency caucus meeting for Wednesday morning, where pro-TPA Democrats were expected to try to garner support for the Republican strategy. That meeting was abruptly canceled late Tuesday after it was clear that the Rules Committee wasn’t meeting to set up a vote on a clean fast-track bill. The panel isn’t expected to meet until next week to set up the vote.

Boehner’s strategy, according to Democratic and Republican aides, is to pass the clean TPA bill and send it to the Senate, where lawmakers would then attach TAA to a separate trade bill for African countries, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The strategy behind the approach is to pressure members of the Congressional Black Caucus to support TAA this time around, since the controversial funding would now be tied to AGOA, which they support.

If House Republicans do pursue a stand-alone TPA bill, it won’t necessarily make matters better for the president’s trade agenda. Passing a clean bill would be far more difficult in the Senate. Obama has vowed to veto a fast-track bill unless TAA is also passed or attached. Obama’s trade package made it through the upper chamber last month, but TAA was attached.

These machinations may now be moot. Major Garrett is reporting that the President will not sign a TPA bill unless it is accompanied by a TAA bill.

What this means is that passing TPA is no longer a matter of legislative strategy, it is a matter of raw arm twisting. The fact that [mc_name name=’Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000197′ ] voted against TAA indicates there will be damned little arm twisting from that quarter (unless Obama has access to a sex tape involving Pelosi and E. T. or something). So it will fall to Boehner to produce enough GOP votes, and that would be north of a hundred based on the previous vote, to ensure passage. It looks like Obama is reverting to his default position as an internet troll. He’s willing to sacrifice a trade agreement he’s spent years working on if it makes Boehner’s life difficult and damages him with House conservatives.