The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast-track trade.”
If passed, the bill would change the process for Congress to authorize trade policy: After the president negotiated international agreements, Congress only could be able to vote yes or no, rather than having the ability to amend or filibuster a proposed deal.
The Obama Administration has been pushing trade promotion authority in order to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, but the fight hasn’t been easy.
A few things to know about the upcoming vote:
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Is trade promotion authority a new conversation?
No. It was originally established in 1974 and was renewed several times, until disagreement between the Clinton Administration and Republican leadership led to its end in 1994. George W. Bush included it in part of his pro-free trade platform in 2000, and it was re-enacted in 2002. After it expired in 2007, however, it was not renewed. The Senate passed the trade bill last month by a vote of 62-37 – with weeks of testy debate and more than 200 amendments suggested to the bill.
Who’s for it?
Most Republicans, as being pro-free trade often is linked to being pro-business. Obama is pushing for it – primarily on the basis that it will enable the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the administration claims will help U.S. businesses and create jobs. Proponents also have noted it makes negotiating with foreign governments more straightforward. It’s easier for the president to work with other leaders when he knows that Congress won’t have the chance to amend what he’s putting forward.
Who’s against it?
Many Democrats, who side with labor unions and claim that opening up trade in the past has led to U.S. jobs being outsourced and wages being depressed. Environmentalists and labor supporters generally don’t like it, as trade agreements don’t include measures regarding environmental or job standards overseas. A small contingent of Republicans are against trade promotion authority, saying they don’t want to expand Obama’s power. Some also have claimed it’s unconstitutional and decreases transparency. However, Congress still would have to vote to approve trade agreements and would have 90 legislative days to review agreements before voting.
What does it mean for Obama to be against his own party?
It’s awkward. Obama and Republicans make for a set of strange bedfellows. The Republican House leadership has called on the president to deliver Democratic votes, but it’s not clear if Obama can convince enough Democratic representatives to ensure the bill will pass. The White House has claimed the partisan divide proves Obama will work with lawmakers on either side of the aisle to achieve his goals. Democrats would beg to differ. Several liberal lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have been open in their criticism of Obama.
What exactly is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and how does it play into this?
The partnership has been going through formal negotiations since 2010. If signed, it would create new rules of trade for 40 percent of the global economy, representing the largest trade deal in history. The 12 countries involved are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. As is often the case with free trade discussions, some — mainly Republicans — see this as a chance to expand U.S. business; others — mainly Democrats — see it as a threat to U.S. jobs and standards.
The Obama administration considers trade promotion authority essential to negotiating the partnership. If trade promotion authority doesn’t pass, it could be back to the drawing board on negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If trade promotion authority passes, Congress still would need to vote on the partnership itself before Obama could sign it.