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Congress Introduces Legislation to “Fast-Track” Free Trade Deals

Posted April 17, 2015

Legislation unveiled yesterday would give U.S. President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate ambitious new comprehensive trade agreements with 11 other Pacific nations and the European Union that will set the course for what will likely be the toughest battles of the chief executive’s remaining time in office.

Ranking members of the Senate and House tax-writing committees introduced the long-overdue Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill that, if approved, would give the President the power to send signed trade pacts to Congress for straight up-or-down votes – with no room for amendments and limited floor debate.

Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee and Ranking Member Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, as well as the House’s Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, introduced the compromise bill Thursday, calling on members of both parties and both houses to approve fast-track authority for the president. That power would open the doors to a long-awaited congressional vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), while simultaneously denying lawmakers the chance to amend what stands to be the largest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In light of widespread opposition to the trade negotiations, not just from the expected array of unions, environmentalists and anti-business activists, but also from wary fiscal conservatives deeply suspicious of President Obama, Senators Hatch and Wyden made a significant and unprecedented concession in the bill with a provision that enables Congress to override fast-track authority if either chamber votes a resolution that “disapproves” of the agreement the President has negotiated.

Should Congress manage to complete the legislation prior to its May recess, many trade experts believe the stalled TPP negotiation process could possibly be finalized before this summer.