‘Fast Track’ Trade Authority Bill Stalls as U.S. Senate Filibusters
President Barack Obama’s export-driven trade agenda has been dealt a major blow as a group of pro-trade Senate Democrats has joined with others in the party in voting to filibuster opening debate on legislation to extend ‘fast track’ Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
Senate supporters of the legislation fell seven votes shy of the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster, with all but one Democrat voting in favor of the filibuster.
TPA is a procedural measure that would allow the Administration to negotiate what its supporters say is the highest standard of free trade agreements, then bring the proposed deals to Congress for an up or down vote—but no amendments. Congress would, however, set the priority objectives for the Administration in trade negotiations and have ongoing reviews during the negotiation process.
Opposition to renewing TPA has been led by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who has demanded the fast-track bill be coupled with three others—the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, a bill aimed at helping U.S. workers displaced by free trade; the African Growth and Opportunity Act; and Customs enforcement legislation that contains the currency manipulation language Democrats and a few Republicans have insisted on.
A number of pro-free-trade Democrats had been expected to join with Republicans to back the fast-track bill, but they balked at the last minute.
Among them was Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated the details of the fast-track trade bill. Wyden told his colleagues late Monday that he will not support starting the debate unless several bills designed to help protect U.S. workers are considered simultaneously.
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Denial of TPA casts a dark shadow over two proposed free trade deals—the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that are promoted by the White House and have caused a major rift between the President and his Democratic base.
The National Retail Federation, a major supporter of TPA renewal, was among the first trade organizations to respond to the Senate filibuster.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Senate failed to begin consideration of trade legislation, including bipartisan legislation that would renew trade promotion authority,” says David French, the group’s senior vice president of Governmental Affairs.
“Even with strong support in both parties and the backing of President Obama, job creation and capital investment have taken a back seat to those who could not rise above political gamesmanship,” French says.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement from Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for Government Affairs, saying that, “There are often stumbles in the course of enacting major legislation.”
TPA, he says, “enjoys significant bipartisan support in Congress as well as the White House and approving the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act is one of the best things Congress can do right now to boost the economy and support American workers and job creators. We’ll continue working to find a path forward for its approval.”
The failed vote doesn’t spell the end for the bill with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Kentucky) telling the media that he will “seek a way” to revive the measure. “This issue is not over,” he says, adding that he will seek to put the legislation in the “win column” on a bipartisan basis.
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