Senate passes first round of votes in advancing ‘Fast Track’ authority to president

A 62-38 vote in the Senate today moved ‘Trade Promotion Authority’ legislation closer toward a final vote, possibly by the end of the week. The so-called “fast track” bill allows the President to negotiate trade deals on his own, and then send the written agreements back to Congress for a simple up or down vote.

The procedural vote was closer than the final count made it seem however, as Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and 12 other Democratic senators only consented to move to debate on the condition that Senate Majority Leader McConnell would bring legislation for the renewal of the Export-Import Bank to the floor sometime before it’s charter expires on June 31st.

The Ex-Im Bank is a federal credit agency which guarantees loans for overseas sales of American-made products. Many conservatives in the House have indicated they want to see it expire. However, Sen. Cantwell said today that “the president now is very committed to making (the Bank) part of the entire trade package.”

President Obama, for his part, called the Senate vote Thursday afternoon “a big step forward”, setting the stage for approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which will “open up access to markets that are too often closed (to American exporters).”

The Trade Promotion bill is now set for debate on amendments, and may take another 60 vote majority vote to pass that stage before the vote of final approval, which will only require a simple-majority of 51. A number of amendments are expected to be proposed in the next two days.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has sparred with the President publicly on TPP, is seeking an amendment for the fast-track bill which will nullify any trade deal which allows private companies to sue national governments for creating policies which hamper their business, such as labor standards or pollution controls.

The White House is threatening to veto legislation which includes amendments that sanction trading partners for manipulating their currency in order to keep the prices of exported goods low. Instead, the President wants to negotiate with countries who engage in these practices individually, and diplomatically.