“It’s showing that Democrats can join with Republicans to knock down unfair international barriers that discriminate against America’s middle class — barriers that for too long have prevented American workers from selling more of what they make, and American farmers from selling more of what they grow,” a confident Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said ahead of the vote. “It’s demonstrating that both parties can work together to strengthen America’s national security at home and America’s leadership abroad, instead of simply ceding the future and one of the world’s fastest-growing regions to Chinese aggression.”
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The legislation would make it easier for the president to negotiate trade deals by preventing them from being amended by Congress. Its stiffest opposition came from members of Obama’s own party, who argue that pacts such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated are bad deals for U.S. workers whose jobs move overseas.
This opposition led the White House to team up with congressional Republican leaders to hash out legislative strategies to get the fast-track bill through Congress.
House Democrats earlier this month sank the original plan to advance TPA by tying it to the reauthorization of a program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), that provides retraining and aid for workers who lose out when their jobs are moved overseas.
This led to the latest, and likely successful, strategy of separating the votes on fast-track and workers assistance.
The Senate will now vote to clear the TPA bill, probably on Wednesday, before moving to a vote on legislation containing the worker assistance program.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, some moderate Senate Democrats expressed skepticism about voting to advance the fast-track bill without TAA attached. Republican leaders successfully allayed those fears through what Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, called “round the clock” talks over the weekend.
Senators said they are confident that the path is clear for both TPA and TAA after Tuesday’s vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters he would vote for the worker retraining bill if that is what it takes to get it passed, even though he doesn’t support the program.
“We [Republicans] all think it is a dog but it’s going to pass; that’s our obligation to see that it passes,” he said.
Getting TPA through Congress has required an unusual level of trust between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a member of leadership, said he expects that this success could help generate goodwill to patch the Highway Trust Fund, which the Transportation Department says will encounter a shortfall before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
“I think it will reap benefits far beyond just this particular piece of legislation and help us get back to a better functioning senate,” he told reporters after the vote.
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