Late Friday evening the Senate reauthorized Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast track” authority.
On Thursday, supporters of fast track gained the support of enough senators to advance the bill to the next stage. In a procedural vote, 62 senators voted in favor of the bill. Fridays final vote was 62-37. The House is now expected to take up TPA in June.
The agreement came through two major deals. First, an agreement was made to vote on an extension of the charter of the Export-Import bank. Also an extension to the Trade Adjustment Assistance program which is supposed to provide income support and training to workers who are displaced by international trade deals.
Under the Fast Track Authority, Congress can either approve or reject trade deals presented by the president. They would not have the power to make amendments. This is supposed to keep important trade deals from being weighed down by amendments, but critics say the true intention is to give the president more power and Congress less.
President Obama said the bill “includes strong standards that will advance workers’ rights, protect the environment, promote a free and open Internet, and it supports new robust measures to address unfair currency practices.”
The approval for FTA by the Senate is related to the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history, involving the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The nations have been negotiating the deal since 2005, with global resistance growing since 2012. Supporters of the bill say it would mean more jobs and a stronger America. Critics say the bill will give corporations loopholes to escape accountability and empower international bodies, overriding national sovereignty of the signing nations.
Secretary of State John Kerry also praised the passing of the bill, stating, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are essential to America’s economic security. They will open markets and level the playing field for American businesses and workers by creating higher standards abroad.”
Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz voted in favor of the TPA. “While I have serious concerns about the all-too-typical Washington backroom deals that enabled this bill to get to the floor, I could not in good conscience vote against a bill whose most significant impacts will be jobs, growth, and opportunity for struggling American families,” said Cruz. The senator also stated that the bill “requires the public posting of the full text of any such agreement for at least 60 days before Congress begins consideration and reaffirms that Congress gets the final say.”
Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, both presidential candidates, did not vote in favor of the bill. Sanders was vehemently against the trade deal and has been critical of Hilary Clinton for not speaking on the issue.
“This agreement, like bad trade deals before it, would force American workers to compete with desperate workers around the world – including workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56-cents an hour,” Bernie Sanders told ABC.