Key members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees agreed yesterday to grant President Obama “fast-track” authority on negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. If Congress goes on to pass this measure, it would submit the package that the Obama administration negotiates to a straight up-or-down vote. U.S. negotiating partners are unlikely to agree to terms if they believe Congress could overturn them at a later date.
This legislative breakthrough, however, is setting up a nasty political fight for Obama and the Democrats. The New York Times:
In what is sure to be one of the toughest fights of Mr. Obama’s last 19 months in office, the “fast track” bill allowing the White House to pursue its planned Pacific trade deal also heralds a divisive fight within the Democratic Party, one that could spill into the 2016 presidential campaign.
With committee votes planned next week, liberal senators such as Sherrod Brown of Ohio are demanding to know Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position on the bill to give the president so-called trade promotion authority, or T.P.A.
Trade unions, environmentalists and Latino organizations — potent Democratic constituencies — quickly lined up in opposition, arguing that past trade pacts failed to deliver on their promise and that the latest effort would harm American workers.
This fight has been brewing for a long time. Senator Harry Reid has been against the Trade Promotion Authority (the official name for “fast-track”) for a long time, vowing to oppose it right after Obama called for it in his 2014 State of the Union address.
And the bill is not in the clear in the House either. The Times goes on to note that Speaker John Boehner will need at least 50 Democrats to support the measure in order for it to pass the House; currently he can only count on 20. A sizable minority of House Republicans apparently also oppose the bill, out of reluctance to grant the President a political win.
Getting fast-track authority would represent an achievement for Obama, but it would also be genuinely good for the country. With the global atmosphere uncertain at best and the U.S. economy showing signs of slowing down, a booster shot from a wide-ranging free trade agreement would be good news indeed.