In a big step forward for President Obama’s trade agenda, the Senate passed trade promotion authority late Friday in a 62 to 37 vote.
While many had expected the Senate to quickly pass the fast-track authority, the bill was approved after weeks of negotiations and several dramatic Senate floor votes and deals. Trade promotion authority allows the president to negotiate trade deals and send them to Congress for an up or down vote.
“It’s a positive move in the right direction,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America. “We have been working on this for years. It’s a positive step for the economy and American consumer and we’re excited about it.”
“We thank the Senate for its thoughtful consideration and final passage. We look forward to the House taking swift action on these trade measures. The early passage will help our member companies reach new customers and foster long-term trade partnerships with countries in Africa, Haiti, and throughout the developing world,” said Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
In a last minute deal Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Maria Cantwell agreed to terms over the renewal of the Export Import Bank charter after the Memorial Day recess. Cantwell’s plan to abstain would have blocked the bill from moving forward for a vote.
More importantly, the Senate didn’t pass the controversial currency amendment attached to the bill. Among the controversial add-ons was a currency provision allowing the U.S. to push back on countries that manipulate currency prices. The provision added by Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Debbie Stabenow would have taken aim at China in particular, which has in the past been accused of keeping it’s currency artificially low, benefitting their exports.
The administration had been concerned that the amendment would kill any chance of finalizing ongoing trade deals and also threaten the Federal Reserve’s policies, which have been seen as currency manipulation overseas.
As the bill heads to the House of Representatives, many are expecting a bigger fight than what was had in the Senate. Chairman of the Ways and Means committee Paul Ryan is going to play a crucial role in the approval of the bill, and many are counting on him to pull together a majority of GOP members to vote in favor of the deal. It’s something he’s done several times before.
“Because of his stature in the party and respect on ether side of the aisle, I think he’ll be important to educate on what TPA is and what it is not,” said Priest.