If passed, the bill would change the process for Congress to authorize trade policy.
The House is expected to vote Friday on trade-promotion authority, commonly known as “fast-track trade” authority.
If passed, the bill would change the process for Congress to authorize trade policy: After the president negotiated international agreements, Congress would only be able to vote yes or no, rather than having the ability to amend or filibuster a proposed deal.
The Obama administration has been pushing trade-promotion authority to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, but the fight hasn’t been easy. Here are a few things to know about Friday’s scheduled vote:
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Q: Is trade-promotion authority a new conversation?
A: No. It was originally established in 1974 and was renewed several times, until disagreement between the Clinton administration and Republican leadership led to its end in 1994. George W. Bush included it in part of his pro-free-trade platform in 2000, and it was re-enacted in 2002. After it expired in 2007, however, it was not renewed. The Obama administration has been pushing to pass new trade-promotion authority legislation since 2012. The topic has been controversial, but the Senate passed the trade bill last month by a vote of 62-37, after weeks of testy debate and more than 200 amendments suggested to the bill.
Q: Who’s for it?
A: Most Republicans, as being pro-free trade is often linked to being pro-business. President Obama’s administration is pushing for it, primarily on the basis that it will enable the TPP deal, which it claims will help American businesses and create jobs. Proponents have also noted that the fast-track authority would make negotiating with foreign governments more straightforward (it’s easier for the president to work with other leaders knowing that Congress won’t have the chance to amend what is being put forward) and would help to open up trade agreements across the board.
Q: Who’s against it?
A: Many Democrats, who side with labor unions and claim that opening up trade in the past has led to U.S. jobs being outsourced and wages being depressed. Environmentalists and labor supporters generally don’t like it, as trade agreements don’t include measures regarding standards overseas. A few Republicans oppose trade-promotion authority, saying they don’t want to expand Obama’s power. Some also have claimed that it’s unconstitutional and decreases transparency, though that argument is typically dismissed because Congress still would have to vote to approve trade agreements and would have 90 legislative days to review agreements before voting.
Q: What does it mean for Obama to be against his own party?
A: It’s awkward. Obama and Republicans have made for strange bedfellows here, trying to collect a simple majority so the bill can pass. Republican House leadership has called on the president to deliver Democratic votes, but it’s not clear if his administration can convince enough Democratic representatives to back him. Several liberal lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have been open in their criticism of Obama. In a closed meeting in the Capitol on Thursday, top White House officials implored Democrats not to deny Obama the trade authority. Obama himself, who’s been unusually personally engaged on a bill that could amount to the biggest achievement of his second term, paid a surprise visit to the annual congressional baseball game Thursday night for some 11th-hour persuading.
Q: What exactly is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and how does it play into this?
A: The partnership has been going through formal negotiations since 2010. If signed, it would create new rules of trade for 40 percent of the global economy, representing the largest trade deal in history. The 12 countries involved are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China notably is not a party to the pact. As is often the case with free-trade discussions, some (mainly Republicans) see this as a chance to expand American business; others (mainly Democrats) see it as a threat to American jobs and standards.
The Obama administration considers trade-promotion authority essential to negotiating the partnership, so if it isn’t approved, it could be back to the drawing board on negotiations for the TPP. But even if trade-promotion authority does pass, Congress still would need to vote on the TPP itself before Obama could sign it. Essentially, nothing can be guaranteed.