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Congress approves assistance for workers who lose jobs to trade

Congress approves assistance for workers who lose jobs to trade
Opponents of President Obama's trade agenda protest outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)

Congress gave final approval Thursday to a program that provides funds for retraining workers who lose their jobs to overseas trade, a key component of President Obama's trade agenda.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, which is now on its way to the White House, became tangled in a political debate over giving the administration fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, including the emerging 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Earlier this month, House Democrats, who typically support the assistance bill, voted against it as a way to block a companion bill authorizing fast track.

But after a stand-alone fast track bill cleared Congress on Wednesday, Democrats had little reason to continue their opposition to the assistance measure. The House voted 286-138 Thursday to approve the measure.

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Passage was ensured after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) announced her support. Pelosi helped block the bill two weeks ago as part of the failed Democratic strategy against fast track.

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Obama has said he hopes to sign both bills together. The worker retraining program has been a long-standing feature of trade policy, but was set to expire Sept. 30.

Republicans oppose spending funds on worker training, calling the program inefficient and wasteful. The program was attached to a popular bill to give trading preferences to goods from sub-Saharan African nations.

Most Republicans voted against the combined bill Thursday, but more than 100 joined most Democrats to ensure passage.

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For the latest from Congress and the 2016 campaign trail follow @LisaMascaro

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