[A2k] FT: Democrats knock back Obama trade push

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed May 13 01:41:44 PDT 2015


Last updated: May 13, 2015 12:15 am
Democrats knock back Obama trade push

Shawn Donnan in Washington

Senate Democrats handed US President Barack Obama a major rebuke on
Tuesday, blocking a bill granting him the congressional authority he needs
to close a sprawling Pacific Rim trade deal at the centre of his
second-term economic agenda.

The procedural vote to block the bill by 45 Democrats does not mark the end
of Mr Obama’s push to gain the fast-track authority
needs to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership
 with Japan
10 other Asian and Latin American economies.

It will, however, contribute to increasing frustration among the US’s
negotiating partners. For months they have been waiting for Washington
politics to play out so they can conclude what would be the biggest trade
pact in two decades.

Republicans, who control both Houses of Congress, said after Tuesday’s vote
that they would seek “alternative paths forward” for the legislation
formally known as Trade Promotion Authority. Even before the vote the White
House called it a “procedural snafu” that would eventually be overcome.

But the 52-45 vote — short of the 60 votes needed for “cloture” — was a
sign of the bitter divisions
Obama’s trade push has engendered in the Democratic party and among its
traditional base in the union movement.

Mr Obama has in recent weeks increasingly been forced to take on in public
leading members of his party including Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts
senator who has become the de facto leader of the party’s left.

However, even as he has been cheered on by Republicans, that strategy seems
to have served only to energise opposition among Democrats.

The latest setback for the administration also adds to the delays facing
the TPP, which the US and its partners had hoped to close before the
summer. Negotiators say they need to do that to have enough time to get it
ratified by Congress before the end of the year and before the 2016
presidential election campaigns heat up.

Republicans called Tuesday’s vote in the hope of formally launching a floor
debate on Trade Promotion Authority and calling a full vote on the measure
before Congress goes into recess for the Memorial day holiday.

Informally called “fast-track” authority it delegates the power to
negotiate trade deals to presidents and commits Congress to holding simple
up-or-down votes on them when they are presented for ratification.

In a procedural move meant to block the bill’s progress, Democrats insisted
that the fast-track bill be bundled with three other trade bills including
a customs one that contains contentious currency manipulation provisions
aimed at China.

But Republicans refused, setting the stage for Tuesday’s vote and yet more
brinkmanship over the president’s top economic priority.

Orrin Hatch, the Republican chair of the Senate finance committee and one
of the lead sponsors of the legislation, said he remained hopeful that the
bill could find another path through the Senate.

“I still believe we can get something done, that we can work something
out,” he said after the vote.

There were also signs that enough Democrats were prepared to eventually
side with the president and Republicans if another way could be found to
bring the bill up for a vote.

At least 10 Democrats registered their support for the bill ahead of
Tuesday although they voted against the motion to open debate on procedural

Business groups said they also retained hope.

“Legislating is never simple, and there are often stumbles in the course of
enacting major legislation,” said Bruce Josteb, executive vice-president
for government affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.

But opponents of Mr Obama’s trade push were also keen to declare victory.

“The fast-track train went off the rails today,” said Lori Wallach, head of
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and a leading critic of US trade policy.

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