Texas GOP Rep. Michael Burgess and Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey don’t usually vote the same way.
But the conservative Republican and liberal Democrat from North Texas were aligned this week as they both voted against a trade bill they oppose for very different reasons.
The Trade Promotion Authority bill, which narrowly passed the House Thursday in a revamped form, would enable the president to submit trade deals to Congress for an up or down vote, without any congressional amendments.
But some Republicans, usually reliably pro-trade, balked at the bill. And Democrats did not feel a connected piece of legislation to help workers displaced by trade went far enough.
“We’ve got a situation where the president has exceeded his authority at every opportunity,” Burgess said in an interview. The Texas Republican is a physician elected in 2002 who has been an outspoken opponent of the president’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.
“I don’t trust him for anything,” he said. As for the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill to help workers, Burgess said, “If you’ve got to rescue people to pass a trade bill, what is the point of the trade bill in the first place?”
Veasey, on the other hand, is a big Obama supporter.
A former Capitol Hill staffer and Texas state representative, Veasey was first elected in 2012. The Fort Worth native who is African American represents a new congressional district between Fort Worth and Dallas that has a large black and Hispanic population.
“I was concerned about the bill by the constituents I had heard from,” Veasey said in an interview. “People were concerned about jobs.” The TAA bill, he thought, fell short in helping workers. “A lot of us felt this bill wasn’t funded enough,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about manufacturing in this country.”
So, Veasey and Burgess voted against the trade bill. According to opencongress.org, a nonpartisan website, the two Texans have only voted the same way 25 percent of the time this year.
And some members in both parties are leery of the soon-to-come Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade accord that would be the first trade deal that moved under the fast-track mechanism.
But the divisions within the Democratic and Republican parties makes for a difficult way ahead for trade deals.
After the House rejected the trade adjustment bill last week and approved the connected TPA bill, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, separated the bills and brought the fast-track piece of legislation to the floor Thursday as a stand-alone bill, where it passed 218 to 208.
The Senate still has to consider the bills and Obama has said that he will not sign the fast track bill without provisions to assist workers.
“People have very strong opinions on both sides, for and against the bill,” said Veasey. After the initial votes defeating the trade bill, the AFL-CIO bought “thank you” ads that honoring Democratic members, including one for Veasey which was placed on Facebook. “Thank you for standing with working families” said the ad featuring Veasey’s picture.
Burgess, whose well-to-do district is northwest of Dallas and reaches into Tarrant County where Fort Worth is located, has not felt pressure to vote in favor of the TPA. He was one of 50 Republicans to oppose the bill, compared to 190 who supported it. And he was the only Republican of the five GOP members who represent portions of Tarrant County to vote against the bill.
“I have voted for trade agreements in the past,” he said. But his constituents were firmly opposed to fast-track. “Right now, with this administration, no one is asking me to be in favor of the bill,” said Burgess.