The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to set an end to debate on a bill to revive the White House’s Trade Promotion Authority, following a hold-up mainly caused by disputes on proposed amendments regarding foreign currency manipulation and Export-Import Bank reauthorization, setting up a possible final vote for Friday.
Senators voted 62-38 on cloture for the bill, H.R.1314 — a previously unrelated House bill used by the Senate as a vehicle for the trade legislation — after a potential delay on the vote failed to come to pass, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., ending a filibuster regarding the renewal of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program just before midnight on Wednesday.
The bill would restore TPA, or “fast-track” authority, which last expired in 2007, allowing lawmakers to help craft the administration’s trade negotiating objectives in exchange for the White House receiving an amendment-free, up-or-down vote from Congress once any trade deal is struck.
Senators from both parties had voted 65-33 to move forward with formal debate on the bill on May 14, after Democratic lawmakers lifted an ongoing filibuster related to concerns that their other trade priorities would be left behind when party leaders struck a deal for the Senate to also consider other trade legislation alongside the TPA bill.
These other bills, regarding preferential tariff treatment for developing countries and enhancements for the government’s customs and trade remedy enforcement efforts — including controversial language on foreign currency manipulation — easily passed.
As debate on the TPA legislation has continued, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has come in for criticism over the amendment process. More than 200 amendments have been put forward by senators, but only a limited number have been put on the Senate calendar, with just two receiving a vote so far.
These included a proposal to provide $575 million in additional funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, a cluster of federal programs providing benefits to trade-displaced workers that are also up for renewal in the TPA bill. That amendment was rejected, while another requiring the U.S. to consider a potential trade partner’s religious tolerance when negotiating deals passed.
Nine amendments are currently pending, including further proposals regarding currency manipulation, a proposal to eliminate TAA from the bill entirely, and another seeking a waiver of the TPA on any trade deal with an investor-state dispute clause, among others.
Hatch has also moved to put several other proposed amendments on the Senate calendar, while other proposals, such as the disputed clause reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank, also continue to float around.
The TPA bill has been supported by an unusual coalition of lawmakers from both parties, as well as the White House, which has been steadily pressing for fast-track protection in order to swiftly pass the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership accord. It described the authority in a policy statement as a “vital tool” for the passage of such deals, which the administration argued will “expand economic opportunities,” among other benefits.
Thursday’s cloture vote allows for up to 30 further hours of debate, meaning a vote on final passage will most likely occur on Friday afternoon. Senators are then scheduled to take a week-long recess for Memorial Day, but McConnell has signaled they could also be in over the weekend to take votes on a number of other pending bills.