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Obama: U.S. workers will suffer if House doesn't act on trade

After House Democrats stymied the passage of White House-backed trade measures on Friday, President Obama is pushing the lower chamber to pass legislation that the administration says is critical to negotiating international trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"This is the right thing to do," the president said Saturday in a video. "Trade that's fair and free and smart will grow opportunity for our middle class. It will help us restore the dream we share and make sure that every American who works hard has a chance to get ahead."

Despite the last-minute personal plea put forth by Mr. Obama Friday, the House of Representatives chose to vote overwhelmingly against Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) -- a provision that would renew and expand a current federal program offering aid to workers who had lost or left their jobs because of international trade deals.

House Democrats derail key elements to Obama trade bill

A second vote on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would "fast-track" trade agreements through Congress, passed in the House with a close 219 to 211 vote.

Mr. Obama touted the TPA vote as a bipartisan effort to "help the United States negotiate new trade deals that are both free and fair."

But when it came to TAA, the president warned that the House vote against the legislation is "leaving as many as 100,000 American workers on their own."

"For the sake of those workers, their families and their communities, I urge those members of Congress who voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance to reconsider and stand up for American workers," the president said.

"Because these smart new trade deals aren't just about growing our economy and supporting good new American jobs," Mr. Obama said. "This is about the kind of country we want to build for our kids and our grandkids. And if I did not think that smart new trade deals were the right thing to do for working families, I wouldn't be fighting for it."

President’s bill blocked by own party

TAA provides financial help to workers who have struggled after international trade deals put their jobs in jeopardy. The federal program is set to expire at the end of September if no agreement can be reached.

House Democrats launched a fierce opposition to TAA before the House vote, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staking out a strong position on the floor against the provision in an effort to "slow down the fast-track" trade package.

The TPA bill can't go to the president's desk without TAA, and Democrats rejected the adjustment assistance provision as a way to foil the entire fast-track package.

"The overwhelming vote today is a clear indication that it's time for Republicans to sit down with Democrats to negotiate a Trade Promotion Authority bill that is a better deal for the American people," Pelosi said in a statement after the vote.

Other opponents of the trade bills see them as an easing of environmental and labor regulations that would eventually cost American workers their jobs.

But both Republicans and the White House are convnced the trade legislation will eventually pass.

"We could do it in any number of ways," House Rules Committee chair Pete Sessions, R-Texas, told reporters after the vote. "I think the Democrats need to realize that we are going to pass TPA."

Even White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the block on the bill, calling the vote simply a "procedural snafu," the likes of which were "endemic to the House."

"We certainly believe that we can convince more Democrats to vote for a program many of them have previously supported," Earnest said Friday on the matter of TAA passage. "This is not a situation where we have to persuade Democrats to hold their nose and vote for something."

The lower chamber is expected to take up a vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance as early as Tuesday.

GOP pushes $612 billion defense bill

In their own video, Republicans made an appeal to pass a contentious defense bill currently being debated in the Senate.

"The most important role of the federal government is to do the one thing we sure can't do by ourselves - defend our country," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said Saturday. "It is a moral imperative to provide for our national defense and for the servicemembers, veterans and their families that protect and secure our freedoms."

Blunt, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, touted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a cost-saving plan that "modernizes" military retirement plans and also "identifies $10 billion in excessive and unnecessary spending and reallocates those funds to military capabilities."

"In other words, the bill redirects defense resources to our nation's fighting forces - not more bureaucrats at the Pentagon," Blunt said.

Critics of the $612 billion legislation say it puts a significant amount of funds in an emergency war chest -- "slush fund" money that would otherwise be subject to budget caps. The bill has even earned a veto threat from the White House.

The Senate took up debate on the NDAA Wednesday. The upper chamber expects to vote on the measure before the end of June.

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