Before heading home for a congressional work period, the U.S. Senate passed a major trade bill, giving President Obama a victory on the trade front.
The bill to renew Trade Promotion Authority passed by a vote of 62 to 37, with 14 Democrats joining the majority of the chamber's Republicans. TPA provides Congress the authority to give trade agreements an up or down vote but not the ability to amend the pacts. President Obama praised the bipartisan vote, calling it an important step toward ensuring the country's ability to negotiate and enforce trade agreements.
"If done right, these agreements are vital to expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers, and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire by selling goods Made in America to the rest of the world," said President Obama.
The so-called "fast-track" authority paves the way for the Administration to finish negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, TPA provides congressional guidance to the Executive Branch on trade policy priorities and negotiating objectives, establishes congressional requirements regarding outreach and consultation, and defines terms, conditions and procedures under which Congress allows the Administration to enter into trade agreements.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman called the Senate's vote a "powerful statement to the rest of the world that the United States speaks with one voice" on the importance of trade.
"The legislation the Senate passed today will update Congress's marching orders to the Administration on trade policy and put in place unprecedented new requirements for transparency and congressional consultation," said Froman.
Now the bill heads to the House of Representatives, where it may face challenges, despite Speaker John Boehner calling its passage a "no brainer."
"Trade helps create good-paying American jobs, so it's good news that the Senate has put us one step closer to eliminating trade barriers. These reforms have the support of farmers, manufacturers, small business owners, and Americans from all walks of life, and it's not hard to figure out why. With trade promotion authority, we'll be able to hold President Obama accountable so America's workers can get the best agreements. Without it, our workers will fall further behind as China writes the rules of the global economy.
Boehner said the House will take up the measure but said passing the bill will require support from some Democrats.
"The House will take up this measure, and Republicans will do our part, but ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what's best for the country," said Boehner.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, nearly 40 million American jobs are supported by trade. That's one in five jobs across the country. Beyond eliminating tariffs, the United States is also focusing on eliminating or reducing unscientific sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers to trade in TPP negotiations. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the Senate's passage of TPA is an important step forward in opening markets for U.S. agricultural products.
"Standing still is not an option. Our farmers and ranchers face exorbitant tariffs and others barriers in important foreign markets, and if we do not act to maintain and gain market share in these places, our competitors will. U.S. agriculture's interests are best served by ensuring America is at the table with strong negotiating authority," said Vilsack.
Agricultural organizations, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council and more praised the Senate vote and urged the House to pass the legislation quickly.