Despite countless attempts to block the measure, including a dramatic standoff in the House of Representatives earlier in the month, President Obama will get his Fast Track Authority (FTA) in order to unilaterally negotiate the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on behalf of the U.S. government. The Senate approved FTA today following Tuesday’s 60-37 vote to bring the issue to a floor vote. The 60-vote threshold avoided a filibuster, and the bill passed today 60-38. The agreement, which includes 11 other Pacific Nations although excluding China, and the negotiations have both been criticized for lack of transparency as well as fears that the agreement will lead to environmental neglect, more outsourcing, and more corporate control over national sovereignty. By receiving the FTA, the president will be able to present the finalized TPP deal to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, with no amendments or filibusters. Obama has sided with the vast majority of Republicans in both houses in support of the complex agreement to the utter frustration of most Democrats nationwide. Some libertarian Republicans, like Senator Rand Paul oppose the agreement due to the potential loss of sovereignty, and a handful of pro-trade Democrats have bucked the trend and have supported the agreement.
This is the second time the agreement has passed in the Senate, after the first attempt was met with the House rebellion. Procedures for the first attempt tied several key amendments that had to be approved in the House in order for the bill to pass Senate muster. The House overwhelmingly rejected the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) provisions that provided training and other aid for workers who have been displaced by trade agreements by a 303-126 vote on June 12th. Although it technically passed the FTA portion of the bill, it was merely a symbolic vote. The TAA was controversial on both ends, as Republicans have been opposed to the measure calling it wasteful and Democrats were against it because its passage would mean TPA’s defacto approval. This time the Senate attached the FTA onto a retirement savings bill for firefighters, leaving TAA for another day. Although most Democrats and some Republicans were infuriated with the president’s cajoling of Congress to pass the bill, which some members believed to be an insult to their integrity, Obama was able to pull together enough supporters through backroom lobbying and negotiation efforts. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said about the FTA vote, “This has been a long and rather twisted path to where we are today, but it’s a very, very important accomplishment for the country.” McConnell also said, “America is back in the trade business.” The bill awaits the President’s signature to become law, which all indications are that he will eagerly do so.
As The Diplomat describes, the FTA passage marks the beginning of the end of the TPP negotiations, although there is still much work to be done. Most of the countries have already hammered out the majority of the trade agreement, although several other countries have been waiting on the U.S.’s passage of FTA in order to finalize many of the provisions. The deal must also pass each country’s respective legislatures, including in the U.S., which could drum up one final wave of intense opposition. Also, given that FTA rules require a 60-day public review before the agreement can be brought to a vote in Congress, it is likely no vote will occur before the fall. The question remains if TPP’s opponents will have acquiesced by that time to the inevitability of the agreement, as the TPA effort resembled a zombie that will never die. Considering that preliminary negotiations are already underway for a similar, U.S.-Euro centric deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), it seems like this will be the future template for global trade, regardless of the myriad concerns by workers, libertarians, and those who want less corporate control over trade policy.
Daily Caller – Connor D. Wolf
The Diplomat – Prashanth Parameswaran
Los Angeles Times – Lisa Mascaro