The Senate moved one-step closer to giving President Barack Obama the authority to fast track trade deals. Friday evening, May 22, 2015 the Senate passed the six-year fast track trade bill, the Trade Promotion Authority Act (TPA) with a vote of 62 to 37, with mostly Democrats opposing the bill. Earlier in the evening the bill passed the last procedural hurdle moving towards the final vote. President Obama was pleased at the bipartisan victory, and afterwards issued a statement to such.
Liberal Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) have fiercely opposed the bill, and they were looking to delay the vote until after the Memorial Day holiday recess, to allow “labor, environmental and liberal advocacy groups” to mount a campaign against the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stacked the votes before the recess to push along the vote quickly, a tactic that worked.
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.
The bill’s Republican and Democratic co-authors and sponsors were pleased with the vote’s outcome. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, “It’s important to President Obama, and it’s important to a lot of us here in the chamber.” The ranking Democrat in the Finance Committee Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), stated, “At the end of the day, colleagues, we’ve always known that one of the paths to more good-paying jobs in our country is exports.”
Originally there were was supposed to be 21 amendments attached to the bill, time prevented votes on them. In the end, only five germane amendments were voted on. One amendment Democrats wanted added was defeated, the Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) authored currency manipulation amendment aimed at China, which would have been enforceable in future trade deals failed with a vote of 48 to 51.
The currency manipulation amendment would have led to the House of Representative voting against the bill, and President Obama possibly vetoing it as well if it went that far. Other amendments authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. also failed.
President Obama praised the bill’s passage, issuing a statement saying, “important step toward ensuring the United States can negotiate and enforce strong, high-standards trade agreements.” Continuing, Obama espoused the economic benefits of trade agreements, “If done right, these agreements are vital to expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers, and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire by selling goods Made in America to the rest of the world.”
The TPP would provide President Obama with a foreign policy victory, but if the fast-track trade bill also passes in the House, it will give him a bipartisan victory in his legacy, that has been rift with partisanship. McConnell also stated it would be the “biggest accomplishment of the 114th Congress.” At this point Speaker of the House John Boehner, (R-OH) supports the bill as does most House Republicans, but the bill needs Democratic votes. In the House as the Senate Democrats oppose the fast track trade bill.
Speaker Boehner hopes the bill does pass, stating, “The House will take up this measure, and Republicans will do our part, but ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what’s best for the country. Let’s seize this opportunity to open new doors for the things Americans make and the people who make them.” The House will pick up debating the bill in June.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.