WASHINGTON — Congress has a small window to approve legislation that would renew President Obama’s authority to submit two ongoing major trade pacts to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote.
That’s because Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., could be confirmed as the U.S. ambassador of China by the end of the month, with Sen. Ron Wyden then taking the reins of the Finance Committee from him. The Democratic senator from Oregon is expected to put his own stamp on trade promotion authority legislation once he fills the chair, potentially delaying the granting of the authority to Obama. The granting of the so-called fast-track authority to the president would likely pave the way for faster completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships.
“New trade promotion authority provides our nation’s trade negotiators with the clarity and flexibility they need to deal with our current and future trading partners,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.
Baucus, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the legislation today on the Senate side, while Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced a companion bill in the House. Both bills would allow Congress to set trade pact negotiation objectives, open communication with the Obama administration and set a framework for how agreements would be sent to Congress. TPA, last renewed in 2002, expired in 2007.
The legislation is backed by a wide array of major business groups, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Passing Trade Promotion Authority and moving forward on the free trade agreements we have under way” is key to increasing the speed of the U.S. economy, Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber said in his annual State of American Business speech in Washington on Wednesday.
Environmental and labor groups, however, are against the bill, arguing that the not allowing amendments and limiting debate could allow the passage of pacts detrimental to the environment and American workers, respectively.
“One thing Congress needs to avoid is pushing forward with the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership without the ability to debate or amend the trade agreement,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa told the JOC. “While some may tout the TPP as a job creator, it is a loser for rank-and-file workers who will see solid middle-class jobs move overseas to countries paying lower wages and with lower labor standards.”
TPA backers face an uphill battle, considering the strong Democratic reluctance to take on free trade pacts and that all House members and roughly a third of senators face mid-year elections.