October 25, 2021

Senate passes ‘fast track’ trade deal, but fate uncertain in the House

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“I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the House to get this across the finish line,” the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said. (AP)

After weeks of wrangling, Senate lawmakers approved legislation that would give President Obama “fast track” powers to negotiate international trade deals.

The vote came after lawmakers defeated several “poison pill” amendments that would have made it difficult for the bill to become law.

“The trade legislation we passed is all about creating new opportunities for bigger paychecks, better jobs, and a stronger economy,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “The tools it contains will allow us to knock down unfair foreign trade barriers that discriminate against American workers and products stamped ‘Made in the USA.'”

Obama released a statement praising the passage of the bill, which he called “an important step toward ensuring the United States can negotiate and enforce strong, high-standards trade agreements.”

But the battle over trade is far from over in Congress.

The bill passed by a vote of 62-37 and now heads for the House, where nearly universal opposition from Democrats coupled with objections from some conservatives has left the measure short of the votes needed to pass it there.

“I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the House to get this across the finish line,” the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

The legislation includes a lure for Democrats in the form of a provision providing aid to workers displaced by trade pact imports.

But that sweetener hasn’t been enough for Democrats, who say past trade deals have killed U.S. manufacturing jobs. Unions oppose the measure, making it even more difficult for Democrats to get behind it.

House Republican leaders have called on Obama, a staunch supporter of the bill, to use his influence to win Democratic votes for the measure.

“The House will take up this measure, and Republicans will do our part, but ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what’s best for the country,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday night.

Senate Democrats mostly voted against the measure, but they tried to amend it first in ways they said would protect American workers and businesses.

The bill gives Congress an up or down vote on new trade deals but prohibits amendments.

Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., offered an amendment that would have enforced international currency manipulation rules in new trade deals.

It was narrowly defeated by trade deal proponents who said it would discourage new trade partners and lead to a presidential veto of the underlying bill.

The Senate also rejected an amendment authored by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a trade pact foe. Brown’s measure would have blocked new countries from joining existing trade deals without a vote from Congress.

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