Senate Democrats Block Fast Track Trade Bill

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The so-called “fast track” trade bill has stalled as Republicans failed to clear a 60 vote procedural hurdle necessary to move forward in the United States Senate.

The bill, which is opposed by organized labor and liberal groups and supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, would prevent Congress from modifying a free trade deal being worked out between the Obama administration and Pacific rim nations. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would encompass 12 nations that represent 40 percent of the global economy.

The “fast track” bill requires a vote on the final trade agreement while eliminating the possibility of a filibuster.

Organized labor has expressed concerns over the potential for losing manufacturing jobs to cheap labor markets included in the trade deal, such as Vietnam, which has per capita income of just over $2,000 per year.

“America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations,” said United Steelworkers International president Leo Gerard. “Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different.”

Others have warned that the deal could undercut environmental and financial regulations.

Supporters of the TPP free trade bill — which would be the largest in American history — say that it would open up new markets to American products.

In an unusual twist, the Democratic president and Republican members of Congress pushed the bill forward while most Congressional Democrats bucked the president.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has warned that the “fast track” bill — which grants six years of fast track trade authority where only a majority vote would be needed in the Senate — would open the gates for the next president to easily pass future trade deals that undermine the Dodd-Frank financial reform package passed after the Great Recession.

The overwhelming Democratic opposition guaranteed that the bill ultimately failed to clear the key procedural vote. Only a single Democrat in the upper chamber, Tom Carper of Delaware, voted to advance the trade authority bill.

As the New York Times reports, Democrats “united around demands that trade promotion authority be paired with a series of other measures, not only to crack down on currency manipulation, but to assist workers displaced by globalization, tighten child labor law and fortify the government’s response to unfair trade practices.”

Even Democrats more open to free trade expressed doubts that they could support a package that neglects to include a crackdown on currency manipulation and funding for displaced workers.

“The group is concerned about the lack of a commitment to trade enforcement, which is specifically the customs bill,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, one of the key Democratic negotiators working on the trade bill.

Political news website The Hill notes that the fast track trade authority bill faces even stronger opposition in the House of Representatives.

“The Senate is generally a more pro-trade body than the House, and it has been easier to move trade agreements through the upper chamber,” Alexander Bolton writes for The Hill.

Even as the trade bill encounters stiff resistance in Congress, it is unlikely that this is the last vote in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose Republican caucus just took control of the Senate in January for the first time since 2006, has vowed to bring the bill back in the coming weeks.

Image Credit: Katie Harbath, flickr

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