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Senate Approves Obama's 'Fast-track' Trade Bill

  • Cindy Saine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 19, 2015.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 19, 2015.

The Republican-led U.S. Senate handed President Barack Obama a major victory Friday night when it passed the Trade Promotion Authority bill.

The lawmakers voted 62-37 in favor of the so-called “fast-track” trade bill. The president’s trade agenda faced opposition from some members of his Democratic Party, who tried to block its passage.

Obama said after the bill's approval that its 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."

The Trade Authority bill is expected to face an even rockier road to passage in the House of Representatives, where it will likely need the support of most of the Republican majority to pass.

The House is not expected to act on the trade bill this month, since members have already left town for the Memorial Day holiday recess.

Fast track to pending trade deals?

The fast-track negotiating authority would allow the president to propose trade agreements that Congress can either reject or ratify, but not change.

Obama has made trade authority a focal point of his remaining time in office, saying it is crucial to advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership of nations, or TPP. The TPP would create the world’s largest free trade zone, spanning half the globe.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, also gave an impassioned plea for the Senate to pass the trade authority bill.

Corker said the bill would facilitate passage of the TPP, which he says would help people in his state of Tennessee and across the country to export more goods, and would also help people in the Asia-Pacific region.

"But importantly, it will draw those countries more closely to the United States, and it will act as a buffer against the dominance that is taking place now with China,” he said.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said, ''We've always known that one of the paths to more good-paying jobs in our country is exports. There are going to be a billion middle-class people – a billion – in the developing world in 2025.

"And these are people with money, colleagues," he said. "They're going to buy our wine, our computers, our helicopters, our planes, all kinds of goods and services with the American brand.''

However, Jeff Markey, the other senator from Oregon who is also a Democrat, said, ''What we've seen in the wake of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the free-trade agreements that have followed is not only a tremendous loss of jobs but a tremendous increase in inequality in this nation.''

China worried about exclusion

Analysts say the Chinese government is concerned that this enormous “anyone but China” trade club could threaten China’s economy.

In the United States, fast-track authority and planned free trade pacts with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union are opposed by a number of Democrats and some Republicans.

Opponents fear the huge free trade zones will benefit multinational corporations at the expense of average citizens, as Democratic Minority leader Harry Reid suggested. “The trade bill is another example of how we have ignored in this Congress working men and women of this country,” he said.

Labor unions and progressive groups fear the trade zones will export American jobs to countries with lower wages and poorer safety conditions for workers.

The Trade Authority bill is expected to face an even rockier road to passage in the House of Representatives, where it will likely need the support of most of the Republican majority to pass.

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