Washington – Despite opposition from Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, the Senate on Wednesday gave President Obama a big win on his efforts to negotiate a new trade pact with 11 Pacific Rim nations.
The Senate approved a Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast-track” bill by a vote of 60 to 38. Only 13 Senate Democrats voted for the bill.
The TPA bill does not guarantee congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it does make it easier for Obama to negotiate the agreement by limiting Congress to an up-or-down vote on a final deal. It also will help Obama’s successor negotiate trade deals because the bill establishes trade promotion authority for six years.
Since it was approved by the House last week, the fast-track bill now heads to Obama’s desk to be signed into law.
It was a setback for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who for months helped rally Democratic opposition to the fast-track bill.
In Connecticut’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, only Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, supported the fast-track bill. Himes, however, has not committed to voting for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will include Japan and Australia among its 12 members, but not China.
Organized labor led the opposition to the fast-track bill and will continue to vigorously lobby against congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unions say it would ship U.S. job overseas and depress the wages of American workers.
Trade pact supporters, which include large Connecticut companies like General Electric and United Technologies Corp., say the trade pact is needed to gain better access to lucrative foreign markets.
Murphy questions Obama’s support of the trade pact, saying the potential benefits when it comes to America’s economic and diplomatic relationships in the region are not worth the dangers of a potential job loss at home.
“Many of us, when we balance the two together, just don’t find a compelling reason to harm a lot of our constituents who we believe would lose jobs because of this,” Murphy said.
Approval of the fast-track bill will help U.S. negotiators in the next, and perhaps final, round of trade talks next month.
But the U.S. ratification process includes a three-month review period for a final trade pact. That could push congressional approval of a final agreement to the end of the year, just before the start of the presidential primaries.
The Senate also approved, by voice vote, a bill that would extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps retrain workers whose jobs are shipped overseas or lost to foreign competition.
But the fate of the TAA bill, which is supported by most Democrats but opposed by many Republicans, is less clear in the House, which could consider the legislation as early as Thursday.