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Congress Breathes Life Into President's Fast-Track Trade Plan

President Obama's "fast-track" trade proposal, written off by many last week, got a key boost in the House on Thursday when lawmakers voted 218-208 to approve the measure.

The bill now moves back to the Senate, where a vote is expected next week.

The fast-track measure would enable the President to send to Congress, for an up or down vote, a trade deal with Pacific rim nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Last week, House Democrats joined with a handful of Republicans to defeat a measure that the fast-track authority was tied to, casting doubts on the future of the overall trade package.

But earlier this week, GOP leaders in the House separated the fast-track bill from the other bill, which would provide training assistance to workers hurt by trade, smoothing the way for Thursday's vote.

Still, as The Wall Street Journal reports, "the course forward is uncertain. The fate of the fast-track legislation is intertwined with a related measure to help workers hurt by international trade. Many pro-trade Senate Democrats say they won't vote for the fast-track bill without evidence the workers' aid program will pass both chambers. "

NPR's Marilyn Geewax summed up the complicated political maneuvering on the trade package and provided a bit of context:

1) President Obama, along with the Republican House and Senate leaders, want to restore the White House's "fast-track" negotiating authority. That power expired during the Bush administration, and Obama wants it back to have a fast track that leads to a simple yes-or-no vote on trade deals. This is called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA.

2) Unions and most Democrats worry that having TPA restored would allow Obama to complete a massive trade deal with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. This deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is still being negotiated. By killing TPA, the Democrats likely would kill TPP.

But TPA lives on. The question is whether it will pass the Senate. Here's what NPR's Juana Summers reported for our Newscast unit:

"To grant President Obama fast-track authority, the Senate still has to vote on the measure. Then, both the Senate AND the House must pass a separate bill including Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to aid workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say they're committed to passing both parts of the trade package. But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she sees no path for the worker aid package through Congress."

So, stay tuned.

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