The Senate on Tuesday voted to advance President Obama’s trade agenda, approving a measure to end debate on fast-track authority.
The 60-37 motion sets up a vote on final passage on Wednesday. If the Senate approves fast-track or trade promotion authority (TPA), it would then be sent to Obama’s desk to become law. Fast-track authority would allow Obama to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes. The White House wants the authority to conclude negotiations on a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal.
Thirteen Democrats backed fast-track in Tuesday’s vote, handing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a major legislative victory. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) voted against the procedural motion.
The Democrats cast “yes” votes even though the trade package did not include a workers assistance program for people displaced by increased trade. The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program was a part of the last fast-track package approved by the Senate in May, but became a key part of opposition to the package among Democrats in the House.
To move fast-track forward, the White House and GOP leaders in both chambers decided to break TAA away from fast-track and to try to approve both in separate votes.
After the Senate votes Wednesday on final passage for fast-track, it will take a procedural vote on a package that includes TAA and trade preferences for African countries known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
McConnell has promised both bills, as well as a customs and enforcement bill favored by Democrats, will reach Obama’s desk by the end of the week.
“If we all keep working together and trusting each other, then by the end of the week the President will have TPA, TAA and AGOA and Preferences on his desk — with Customs in the process of heading his way too,” he said on the floor.
The House has already passed fast-track but it must still vote on the package including TAA, which faces opposition from conservatives.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated on Tuesday his pledge to vote again on TAA as soon as it clears the upper chamber.
“The House will consider TAA once it passes the Senate as part of a new trade preferences bill. And we are ready to go to conference on the customs bill. Our goal is to get TPA and TAA to the president’s desk this week and deliver this win for the American people,” he said in a statement.
The Senate vote to end a filibuster against fast-track appeared in doubt until the final moment as a group of pro-trade Democrats balked at McConnell’s decision to split it off from TAA, a move made necessary to circumvent opposition in the House. source