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June 18, 2015 5:00 PM, EDT

House Passes Free Trade Legislation; Trucking Sees Economic Boost

The House approved a bill intended to speed free trade deals, legislation that is backed by business groups and the Obama administration.

The 218-208 vote June 18 for the Trade Promotion Authority bill included most Republicans and 28 Democrats. The Senate could vote on the measure as soon as next week.

The measure would give President Obama the ability to present free trade pacts to Congress to be voted up or down without amendments. Obama is pushing for passage of this legislation to help complete a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with 12 Asian nations.

Trucking industry officials said a free trade bill would boost the U.S. economy as well as trucking and freight transportation.

“When we trade goods, at some point in the supply chain it’s going on a truck,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations.

“This, specifically, will be good for trucking and, in general, free trade is very good for trucking,” Costello said. “Any time you can get trade expanded, you’ve got new markets, new opportunities and new business.”

TPA would give fast-track authority to Obama and the next president for six years as part of a package that revamps U.S. trade policy into the next decade.

With fast track through the House, attention turns to how its backers will make good on a pledge to ensure that the worker-aid program also is enacted. Passing both measures is a long-standing political agreement between backers of fast track, even though most Republicans oppose it.

House Democrats, who have been supporters of worker assistance, voted against it last week because the vote was legislatively linked to fast track — something that is no longer the case.

A senior House Republican member said that, in private talks, Obama has promised he would sign fast track once it’s passed to ensure that House Democrats can’t continue the political linkage between the two proposals