TPA Clears Bicameral Panels; Floor Debate Expected

April 29, 2015

pic-export-shipOn April 16, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced bipartisan, bicameral Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation that establishes concrete rules for international trade negotiations to help the U.S. deliver strong, high-standard trade agreements that will boost American exports and create new economic opportunities and better jobs for American workers, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs.

The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015) outlines 21st century congressional negotiating objectives that any administration – Republican or Democratic – must follow when entering into and conducting trade talks with foreign countries while also increasing transparency by requiring that Congress have access to important information surrounding pending trade deals and that the public receive detailed updates and see the full details of trade agreements well before they are signed.  When the trade agreement meets the U.S. objectives and Congress is sufficiently consulted, the legislation allows for trade deals to be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, an incentive for negotiating nations to put their best offer forward for any deal.  At the same time, the bill creates a new mechanism to withdraw TPA procedures and hold the administration accountable should it fail to meet the requirements of TPA.

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee approved TPA-2015 by a vote of 20-6. The Senators who voted no on TPA included:  Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

During the debate and markup, three amendments were adopted. Two offered by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), the first, approved unanimously 26 – 0, would add a TPA negotiating objective (that only applies to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations) designed to enhance U.S.-Israel trade relations and a second, which passed by voice vote, that would elevate the bill’s human rights/good governance negotiating objective from an overall goal to a principal goal. A third amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was approved 15-11 and would prohibit TPA application to trade agreements with any country that does not take sufficient government action to combat human trafficking according to an annual U.S. State Department report. Many other amendments, including rules to strengthen anti-currency manipulation provisions were offered and either failed or were withdrawn.

The following day, the House Ways and Means Committee passed TPA-2015 by a bipartisan vote of 25-13 with all committee Republicans supporting it. They were joined by two Democrats—Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). The committee approved an amendment—by Sen. Cardin—making two of the three TPA bill changes made by Senate Finance. The committee did not take up the Senate Finance-approved Menendez amendment on human trafficking. No other amendments to the TPA bill passed.

Besides TPA, the panels approved a Trade Adjustment Assistance bill that helps those who have lost jobs to trade, renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act and a measure that lowers tariffs for some developing nations as well as a customs and enforcement bill.

Republicans in both chambers are confident they have enough votes to secure final passage of TPA-2015 in the near future, and floor action may begin as early as next week in the Senate. The Senate is likely to consider it under an open amendment process, which could result in a lengthy floor debate and could tie up the Senate for two weeks or even longer.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted its passage will be one of the current Congress’ landmark achievements. Signing TPA into law will guarantee to the 12 trading partners of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the 28-nation Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that U.S. lawmakers won’t alter their agreements.