The Senate Finance Committee delivered a bipartisan vote Wednesday to advance the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, also known as "fast-track" authority.
If the TPA is approved by Congress, President Barack Obama's trade legislation can be offered for a simple up-or-down vote without any amendments or the threat of a filibuster. Obama has said that If Congress passes the TPA, it will help him negotiate his ambitious, but controversial, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement with 12 nations, including Australia, Canada and Japan. The president has called it the most "progressive trade deal in history."
However, the TPP has divided Democrats and alienated Obama's allies in the labor community. On the other hand, some Republicans and conservative organizations who have routinely blocked his agenda, or outright campaigned against him, like the Chamber of Commerce, have thrown their weight behind the potential deal.
The vote breakdown on Finance Committee (20-6) was illustrative of how polarizing the TPP is among Democrats and attractive it is for business-friendly Republicans:
DEMOCRATS: y - Ron Wyden (D-OR) n - Charles Schumer (D-NY) n - Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) y - Maria Cantwell (D-WA) y - Bill Nelson (D-FL) n - Robert Menendez (D-NJ) y - Thomas Carper (D-DE) y - Ben Cardin (D-MD) n - Sherrod Brown (D-OH) y - Michael Bennet (D-CO) n - Robert Casey (D-PA) y - Mark Warner (D-VA) REPUBLICANS: y - Orrin Hatch (R-UT) y - Chuck Grassley (R-IA) y - Mike Crapo (R-ID) y - Pat Roberts (R-KS) y - Mike Enzi (R-WY) y - John Cornyn (R-TX) y - John Thune (R-SD) n - Richard Burr (R-NC) y - Johnny Isakson (R-GA) y - Rob Portman (R-OH) y - Pat Toomey (R-PA) y - Dan Coats (R-IN) y - Dean Heller (R-NV) y - Tim Scott (R-SC)
More than 120 House Democrats wrote a letter in opposition to a "fast-track" in the last legislative session and the AFL-CIO has come out strongly against it too. "The idea that fast track lets Congress set the standards and goals for the TPP is a fiction—the agreement has been under negotiation for more than five years and is essentially complete," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
"These agreements put in place rules that could limit the ability of Congress and the states to legislate in the public interest now and for decades to come. Yet the public and Congress have too little say in the important details of these deals," he added.
Progressives fear that the deal could result in the loss of American jobs to outsourcing and also question the lack of worker and environmental protections in the agreement. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has become one of the most vocal public critics of the deal and the secretive nature in which it was conceived, drawing a direct rebuke from Obama himself.
"I love Elizabeth, we're allies on a whole host of issues. But she's wrong on this." Obama said during a recent appearance on msnbc's "Hardball."
During an appearance on msnbc's "Rachel Maddow Show" on Wednesday, Warren neglected to take a shot back at the president, but did say: "We want to see this deal before you grease the skids, not afterwards."
"My view is when the process is rigged, the outcome is likely to be rigged too," Warren added.
"Senators can go and read it but we're not allowed to talk about it," she said. And she warned that the "fast-track" authority could be used and abused by not just Obama but several future presidents.
A full Senate vote on the TPA bill has not been scheduled yet and isn't expected until after upcoming votes on Lorretta Lynch's long-delayed nomination for attorney general and a bill regarding the president's nuclear arms deal with Iran.