In an unusual coalition between President Obama and Senate Republicans, sweeping legislation to strengthen the Presidents’ administration’s authority in global trade talks – called “fast-track authority” – moved towards Senate passage Thursday after a contentious debate.
The vote was not on the actual TPP trade agreement, but rather “fast-track authority” for it.
The TPP trade agreement has been called “secretive” and even “unconstitutional” by some critics.
Thursday’s vote kept alive Obama’s efforts to secure the broad trade deal by advancing legislation that would give him expanded authority to complete the accord.
“Fast-track” legislation would allow the President to make trade deals that Congress could either support or reject but not amend or change.
Previous presidents have had similar authority for agreements such as NAFTA. Administration officials argue that Japan and other Pacific-region countries in the current round of TPP talks will be unwilling to present offers for the deal if they know lawmakers can seek more concessions.
The 62-38 vote, just two more than the 60 needed, came from a strong group of Republicans and a group of roughly a dozen Democrats who “changed sides” for the vote.
A decisive “thumbs-up” came from Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington after she and a few others seized the moment as leverage to demand a vote next month on legislation to renew the Export-Import Bank.
“It was a nice victory. We’re going to continue and finish up the bill this week,” said Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, apparently basking in the glory.
He is – ironically – Obama’s most important Senate ally on the trade bill, according to the Associated Press.
The Senate passage clears the way for a fierce struggle in the House, according to the AP. The fate of “fast-track” in the House remains a tossup because Obama faces entrenched opposition from his own party, according to The Washington Post.
The president was up late Wednesday night placing telephone calls to lawmakers, and he spoke with Cantwell again shortly before the vote.
“…(T)he real political divide is over the value of international trade agreements themselves, and the result has been a blurring of traditional political lines,” writes the Associated Press.
Supporters say such agreements benefit the American economy by lowering barriers overseas and expanding markets for U.S. services and goods. Labor unions and Democratic allies in Congress argue the deals cost jobs at home and send them to nations with lax environmental and safety standards and low wages.
The trade measure is one of three major bills pending in the Senate, and lawmakers will have a weeklong Memorial Day recess at week’s end.
The measure for fast-track authority received just enough Democratic support to keep it moving, following a last-ditch lobbying effort by Obama and his top advisers. The fate of the legislation, also known as trade promotion authority, hung in the balance for more than 30 minutes during the vote, writes The Washington Post.
The AFL-CIO labor union denounced the vote as “shameful” in a graphic that featured the names and photos of each of the 13 Democratic senators who voted for the bill. The AFL-CIO is clear on its position against the agreement.
Senator Bernie Sanders – a Democratic candidate for President who is running against Hillary Clinton for that party’s nomination – hammered the Senate for siding with corporations while harming American workers.
“If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
“Bad trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are a major reason for the collapse of the American middle class and the increase in wealth and income inequality in the United States…”
Sanders also said, “We must defeat fast track and develop a new policy on trade,” writes Politicususa.
Hillary Clinton has been indifferent on her position on the trade agreement.
Jeb Bush, who is presumably the Republican frontrunner in the race for president, supports the trade deal. He wrote in April “I haven’t changed in my view even though Hillary Clinton has. It is time to move forward as even recent Democratic presidents have recognized — and Sec. Clinton shouldn’t stand in the way for political gain.”
The unions fighting Obama on trade were hoping for much more from Clinton.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told Politico last month that Clinton coming out forcefully against the fast-track authority would “put some wind in her sails” with organized labor that is still furious at her husband for NAFTA.
When asked by Politico in April where Clinton would differ from Obama on trade policy, and what she would do differently from what Obama is proposing, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill did not respond directly to the question.
“She has laid out the bar that needs to be met, to protect American workers, raise wages, and create more good jobs at home,” said Merrill.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s trying to start up a candidacy on Clinton’s left, is against the trade deal, as he and his aides have eagerly pointed out, writes Politico.
Oddly, there is a Republican presidential candidate who does not support the trade deal: Mike Huckabee.
“Huckabee believes that the United States has been losing its’ economic base for years and that the supposed free trade deals we have entered into in the past have not been fair to this country. In his announcement speech, Huckabee said he will focus on average working Americans who ‘don’t feel like anybody understands or knows who they are, much less cares what’s happening to them.'”