Congress is bracing for a showdown over granting the White House "fast-track" authority to negotiate a sweeping multinational trade deal — a fight that could be one of the toughest battles of President Barack Obama's remaining time in office.
The brouhaha will center on an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But the wrangling is also about whether to grant Obama and future presidents the right to request an up-or-down vote in Congress on trade agreements. Supporters say such authority gives the president better negotiating power; opponents worry that massive deals deserve vetting by Congress.
Last week, after tense negotiation, leaders of tax committees in both congressional chambers agreed to legislation that gives Congress the right to vote on the trade deal — but prevents legislators from including amendments that could stymie its progress.
Here's what you need to know about the gathering storm.
'NAFTA on steroids'
Should all the countries involved come to an agreement, the resulting trade deal would be the largest since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which spelled out rules for trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The goal: a freer flow of everything from Florida oranges to Japanese video games. Opponents derogatorily refer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as "NAFTA on steroids," since nearly 40 percent of the global economy would be represented.
Who supports it?
The Obama administration, many Republicans, large corporations, the tech and agricultural industries and even Hollywood — eager to strengthen copyright protections — all back efforts to increase America's ability to export to countries included in the pact. Supporters argue that the deal is needed to help remove barriers to trade and boost the American economy.