Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), colloquially known as “fast-track,” received consideration through the Senate with 60 votes in favor and 37 against. With 60 votes, the legislation received the exact minimum necessary to prevent a filibuster. At this point, the Senate will still need to officially pass the legislation, but it can do so with a simple majority. Today’s procedural result basically ensures this outcome, meaning that after a dramatic few weeks on the House and Senate floors, the Obama administration’s trade agenda will move forward unfettered.
Today’s vote comes after the House voted on TPA, approving it, but voting down an accompanying provision known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). I covered the politics that led to that result (see: “TPP Update: What Happened in the House“). In brief, with the House under Republican control, TPA’s passage was relatively uncontroversial. Meanwhile, Democrats, who are skeptical of the administration’s trade agenda and in principle favor TAA as a “consolation” prize of sorts, voted down this measure because they knew that fast-track would head to the president’s desk to be signed into law if and only if both TPA and TAA cleared the House. The House and the Senate needed to clear the legislation in the same manner (i.e., if the Senate packaged TPA/TAA — which it did when it first passed the legislation in May — the House had to do so too).
As a result of that outcome, the Obama administration and its Republican allies in Congress had to take the issue of TPA back to the Senate as a separate question for reconsideration. Today’s vote thus marks a victory for the administration and pro-trade Republicans. Once the Senate officially votes on TPA, the legislation will head to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Fast-track authority will grant Obama the ability to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other states without legislative amendment. After a final agreement is concluded, Congress will have four months to publicly review the provisions of the final agreement and simply vote it either up or down.
The final outstanding matter at this point will be TAA, legislation that will help workers displaced by foreign competition under future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Senate Democrats and their Republican counterparts have agreed to vote on TAA later this week, independent from TPA this time. TAA would still have to clear the House, which remains an open question. Still, the bargain got TPA through for consideration in the Senate as enough Democrats voted in favor of the motion to prevent a filibuster.