WASHINGTON — A long-awaited Pacific trade deal between the U.S. and other Pacific Ring nations cleared another hurdle Friday evening.
In a 61-38 vote, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to renew trade promotion authority for the country’s president. The so-called “fast-track” authority would give the president the power to approve international trade agreements that cannot be changed by Congress. The news means President Obama, who has made trade promotion authority a cornerstone of his administration, will be able to advance a much-anticipated 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, among other deals.
Fast-track authority has moved in fits and starts through the Senate over the past two weeks thanks in large part to lawmakers from the president’s own party. Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and other pro-labor Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., devised a number of amendments to attach to the bill and slow its momentum.
They argued trade promotion authority would encourage out-sourcing and hurt the American working middle class.
Their effort failed, however, and now the bill moves to the House of Representatives — where it will undoubtedly face just as many hurdles.
Since 2012, the Obama administration has been seeking to renew fast-track trade negotiating authority, giving the president the power to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. The last time the U.S. president had trade promotion authority was 2007.
That legislation and the trans-Pacific pact it could make it possible has broad support among Republican members of Congress, as well as from the 11 nations worldwide already signed on to the TPP deal and trade groups like the National Retail Federation and the Express Association of America, which represents the four largest integrated express carriers in the country: DHL, FedEx, TNT and UPS.
It’s been almost eight years since trade promotion authority was last in effect. Before that, the president was granted the authority between 1975 and 1994 and again from 2002 through 2007. Although the authority expired without renewal in 2007, it continued to apply to trade agreements already under negotiation until 2011.