President Barack Obama signed into law the greatest bipartisanship achievement of his presidency, the six-year fast track trade bill, the Trade Promotion Authority Act (TPA) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA) at a bipartisan White House ceremony on Monday, June 29, 2015. The bills’ passage leads the way for a major foreign policy victory in the president’s second term with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), allowing the president to negotiate a trade bill with 11 nations.
At the ceremony in the East Room, President Obama praised the bipartisan bill that received overwhelming Republican support, but faced constant objections from Congressional Democrats. The president remarked, “I think it’s fair to say that getting these bills through Congress has not been easy. They’ve been declared more than once. They have inspired long and passionate debates and that’s entirely appropriate for our democracy. That’s how this country’s supposed to work. We’re supposed to make sure that we air our differences and then ultimately Congress works its will, especially on issues that inspire strongly held feelings on both sides.”
Continuing, President Obama also commended what the bills will be able to do for the country; “This is a good day. I’m very confident that we’re going to be able to say at the end of the day that the trade agreements that come under this authorization are going to be improve the system of trade that we have right now and that’s a good thing.”
The bipartisan ceremony was attended by “U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.”
The fast track trade bill gives President Obama the authority to fast track trade deals, and it will assist him in finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Asia-Pacific nations. The bill expired in 2007, and it gives the president more authority on trade bills, only allowing Congress to vote accept or reject a trade deal with a simple majority, but not amend it. All recent presidents have enjoyed that authority with the exception of President Obama.
In a rare reversing of events, Obama found allies for the bill with Congressional Republicans while his own party, Congressional Democrats especially in the House of Representatives constantly used roadblocks in an attempt to derail the bill’s passage. House Democrats, who usually support the TAA, that aims at “providing $450 million in aid to U.S. workers who are displaced by free trade laws.” The bill was meant as a consolation in exchange for Democratic support of the fast track bill.
House Democrats balked when it was bundled with the TPA defeating both bills on June 12. Both bills needed to pass, the TAA failed with a vote of 126-302, but the TPA passed 219-211. In the end, the TPP and TAA were voted on separately at different times to ensure passage. After coaxing from President Obama, the House finally passed the TPA on Thursday, June 18 with a “narrow” vote of 218-208.
The Senate quickly followed suit passing the bill again as a standalone on Wednesday, June 24 with a vote of 60-38. One of the bill’s co-authors and sponsors, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah praised the TPA’s passage, expressing that “This is a critical day for our country. In fact, I’d call it an historic day. This is perhaps the most important bill we’ll pass in the Senate this year.”
Finally in what was an anti-climax the House passed on Thursday, June 25 the trade adjustment assistance bill with a 286-138 vote. The bill’s passage ended the trade bill drama that showed rifts between the president and his own party.