Trade Promotion Authority Debates Continues in Senate

May 19, 2015

free_tradeThis week the Senate has been debating and considering amendments to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015), legislation that allows the president to enter into reciprocal trade agreements and requires that legislation for implementing the agreement be considered by Congress on a defined timeline without amendments.

The legislation reauthorizes TPA for six years, and gives members of Congress access to important information surrounding pending trade deals and allows the public to receive detailed updates and see the full details of trade agreements well before they are signed. Once the trade agreement meets the United States’ 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.

The TPA debate comes as the U.S. is currently in talks on two of the most ambitious trade deals in the nation’s history – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). For successful negotiations, both trade agreements require Congress to reauthorize TPA, which expired in 2007.

On May 18, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that the chamber will finish TPA this week, no matter how long it takes, which may prevent senators from leaving for the Memorial Day recess. McConnell is under a tight deadline to pass trade legislation, as well as surveillance and highway measures before the Senate leaves and has urged his colleagues to cooperate across the aisle and not slow down the process.

One roadblock to passage may be the debate over whether to allow a vote that would attach an Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) reauthorization to the TPA legislation. Attaching it to the trade measure could complicate the trade bill’s prospects in the Senate, and derail the bill in the House, where there is strong opposition to keeping Ex-Im operating. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is offering an amendment that would reauthorize the Bank through 2019—for now Ex-Im is set to expire on June 30.

Supporters of Ex-Im favor attaching reauthorization to a must-pass bill such as the TPA measure, as they view it as the best way for saving the Bank, however, those opposed to Ex-Im fear that it could ultimately put TPA at risk for passage.

The Senate Banking Committee will hold two hearings on Ex-Im in June and Majority Leader McConnell has said he will not block a vote on Ex-Im before its expiration, though he personally opposes it.

Although many Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), oppose TPA—worrying that the trade bill would send American jobs overseas and hurt the U.S. middle class—enough Democrats have expressed support that the bill will likely reach the 60 votes necessary to pass. This will be a major victory for the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers who have viewed this as a top legislative priority.

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