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American Shipper

Senate cloture vote inches TPA closer to finish line

President Obama and supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership won a procedural battle in Congress with the Senate voting to end a filibuster on fast-track Trade Promotion Authority Tuesday, but the real war may be yet to come.

   The United States Senate voted Tuesday morning to break a potential filibuster on a bill granting the president “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority, a power many see as key to negotiating the massive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
   With TPA legislation clearing the House late last week and final passage in the Senate expected by Wednesday, Tuesday’s 60-37 cloture vote means Trade Promotion Authority legislation could be signed into law by the end of the week.
   Trade Promotion Authority is a tool that gives the president the power to independently negotiate free trade agreements and send them to Congress for an “up-or-down” (yes or no) vote without amendments. President Obama says TPA will give him more leverage in negotiating free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as the other nations involved will not be worried about after-the-fact revisions.
   If it seems like you’ve read this story before, it’s because you probably have. Obama has been lobbying for TPA for months, and the bill has been volleyed back and forth from one side of Congress to the other more times than most can keep track of.
   The House of Representatives last Thursday voted to pass TPA for the second time in less than a week, this time decoupling fast-track authority from the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and sending the bill back to the Senate. Trade Adjustment Assistance is a program that extends federal assistance for job training, relocation and health benefits to workers displaced by employers relocating jobs overseas because of favorable trade conditions.
   A previous vote in the Senate passed both TPA and TAA, but linked the two together, meaning that both bills would have to pass in the House before they could be sent to the president for approval. When TAA was dramatically defeated in the House as a means to block the fast-track bill, however, both were sent back to the Senate to be voted on separately.
   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have since promised to help pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in order to gain support for TPA. But Democrats, who have insisted on the worker assistance program as a prerequisite for fast-track authority, were wary of such promises.
   According to a report from Politico, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., was concerned as late as Monday night that the TAA bill would not pass. “I have been assured that the House and the Senate will take up TAA and the enforcement legislation,” said Shaheen. “I appreciate the speaker saying he’s going to take it up this week and Sen. McConnell filing cloture on it.”
   Tuesday’s vote represents a victory for President Obama and supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the war over free trade agreements may still be far from over. Democratic lawmakers that vote in favor of TPA, could still vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership when it is brought to Congress for approval.
  Opponents of the TPP, which include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, have lobbied against Trade Promotion Authority, as well as Trade Adjustment Assistance, as a way to bring down the agreement entirely. They say the deal will hurt the middle class and lead to increased outsourcing of jobs and lowered environmental and labor standards.
   Supporters argue the TPP will set guidelines for shifting trade patterns that will take place with or without the United States’ input, rather than let other countries like China, who may have less stringent policies, lead the way and potentially make it more difficult for U.S. companies to compete in the global marketplace.
   Following Tuesday’s cloture vote, the National Retail Federation, a trade association that represents retail stores, merchants, grocers, wholesalers, chain restaurants and Internet retailers, said in a statement it was “more than just another routine procedural vote.”
   “This is a necessary step toward ensuring a free and open global economy where trade barriers are a thing of the past,” said NRF. “Opening up international markets will be a legacy not only for President Obama but for every member of Congress who voted in favor of this measure. We now call on senators to pass TPA in the final vote.”

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