WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate voted 62-37 on May 22 to give President Obama “fast-track” authority in trade agreement negotiations.
The fast-track bill now goes to the House of Representatives; if the House approves it, the measure will give President Obama authority to submit trade agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments.
At issue in this legislation is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean. The TPP would be the first trade pact to be considered under fast-track if the bill passes.
President Obama and many pro-business interests support the TPP, saying it will regulate the global economy and give a boost to U.S. wage-earners.
Labor unions and their supporters, however, insist the TPP will only provide impetus for manufacturers to ship domestic production and jobs overseas. Opponents point to the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s, which by many accounts benefited Mexico and Canada far more than the U.S.
Reaction to Senate passage of the fast-track bill was predictably divided. The American International Automobile Dealers Association, for example, hailed the bill's passage.
“Trade promotion authority is crucial to America's future as a leader in the world marketplace,” said AIADA President Cody Lusk. “Dealers view the Senate's bipartisan support of TPA as support for small business owners, their employees, and their customers. TPA is the key to trade, and trade creates American jobs.”
Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union, took the opposite view.
“Senators who voted to stifle debate and approve fast-track so quickly have undermined rights of working Americans,” Gerard said.
“Trade dealers like NAFTA have constricted economic growth, contributing to stagnating and declining wages which fueling offshoring and outsourcing of production,” he said. “The approach taken by the Senate will damage U.S. production and jobs. No one voting for fast-track should laud this bill.”
Congress last approved fast-track authority for the president in 2002, in the early days of the George W. Bush administration. The authority lapsed in 2007.