- Washington 05/21/2015 by Jonathan Weisman (NY Times)
The Senate on Thursday voted to break a filibuster to advance legislation that would empower President Obama to complete a major, 12-nation Pacific trade accord, an integral step toward approval of a key piece of the president’s ambitious trade agenda.
The 62-38 vote to end debate on a carefully brokered deal to give the president trade promotion authority came in a dramatic moment, when Democratic senators secured a commitment from Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, that the Senate will vote on an extension of authorization for the Export-Import Bank, which faces extinction June 30 without congressional action.
Senators in both parties clustered on the Senate floor negotiating the Export-Import agreement. When it was reached, they voted yes en masse.
“We just want people to stand up and be counted in June before the bank expires,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington who supported the trade legislation but blocked it until she got assurances on the bank.
The Senate will now vote on a series of amendments — some highly contentious — before a final vote on the trade legislation, probably on Friday. The fate of the trade promotion bill is still unknown because even if it passes in the Senate, there has always been more opposition to it in the House, particularly among Democrats.
Among those amendments in the Senate are a bipartisan push to demand any trade deal address the intentional manipulation of currency rates and a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, to strip from the Pacific trade deal language granting corporations the right to challenge regulations in member nations that harm the value of their investments.
Regardless of that gantlet, the president’s trade push cleared a major hurdle with Thursday’s vote. It also vindicated the strategy of Mr. McConnell, who strictly limited the number of amendments to the trade bill and jammed it into the last week before the Senate’s Memorial Dayrecess.
Still, to get it through, the majority leader had to set up another high-stakes showdown over the Ex-Im Bank, a 70-year-old federal agency that guarantees loans for United States companies exporting products overseas. Conservatives have labeled the agency a crony capitalist favor factory and have demanded its demise.
But a majority of Congress supports the bank’s extension if it can get a vote, and Democrats decided to take a stand for it.
Many voters believe a series of free trade agreements stretching back to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993 have sent jobs overseas and depressed wages as American workers compete with international competitors.
House Democrats are more opposed to trade promotion authority than their Senate colleagues and a small but vocal group of Republicans is against granting Mr. Obama power to do anything.
House Republican leaders plan to bring the Senate-passed bill to the House floor almost as soon as Congress returns from a one-week Memorial Day recess.