This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that would have given President Obama “trade promotion authority (TPA),” which effectively expedites congressional consideration of trade agreements favored by the president. Specifically, TPA bars Congress from amending or filibustering trade agreements that the president supports. (Filibusters stall legislation indefinitely by effectively preventing bills from being voted on.) Under TPA (also known as “fast-track” authority), congressional leaders must allow trade pacts to come to a final, up-or-down vote.
McConnell urged support for his amendment: “…My amendment on which we are about to vote would grant to the president something no president has had since trade promotion authority expired back in 2007. Without trade promotion authority, there will be no other trade agreements. We all know that. If America wants to be the leader of the world in trade, we have to have trade agreements….My party does not occupy the White House. I want the president of the United States, whoever that is, to have trade promotion authority because I would like to see us have an opportunity to have trade agreements in the future. All of our competitors have taken advantage of the fact that we have not had a trade agreement for years….if my colleagues think we ought to have another trade agreement sometime in the future for the United States of America, I urge them to support my amendment.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) opposed McConnell’s amendment: “The last time Congress passed trade promotion authority was in 2002, essentially almost one decade ago. The McConnell amendment would simply continue Congress's instructions that were formulated back then, as I said, almost one decade ago. But the fact is, the American economy has changed dramatically since TPA was adopted last, and the overseas trade barriers have changed dramatically. Yet the McConnell amendment simply hasn't kept up with the times….Digital goods and services would be of special concern that we have looked at in our community. Digital goods, for an example, would be software. Digital services would highlight cloud computing….I believe the Internet represents the shipping lane of the 21st century. It is the shipping lane for goods and services, and the 2002 version of trade promotion authority doesn't have the kinds of policies that are necessary to address today's challenges that affect our ability to export American goods and digital services. A second example would be the question of labor and environmental standards with respect to our trade goals and intellectual property protection for pharmaceutical drugs. In May of 2007, congressional Democrats and Republicans got together, on a bipartisan basis, to update trade goals with respect to key issues such as labor and the environment and intellectual property protection as it related to pharmaceutical drugs and therapies. These agreements that were entered into in 2007 aren't reflected in the 2002 version of trade promotion authority. So extending the 2002 version of trade promotion authority is another area where, if we simply support the McConnell amendment this afternoon, trade policy has not kept up with the times.”
[This amendment was offered to legislation that would extend a non-controversial trade program known as the “General System of Preferences” through 2013. This program allows developing nations to ship raw materials to the U.S. without paying duties on those products. Senate Democrats had brought up the non-controversial General System of Preferences bill with the intention of amending it in order to extend trade adjustment assistance programs through fiscal year 2016. (The extension of TAA--which provides job retraining to workers who lost their jobs as a result of trade policy--would effectively clear the way for the enactment of free-trade agreements between the U.S. and Colombia, South Korea, and Panama; President Obama had indicated he would send those agreements to Congress for approval if the House and Senate passed legislation to extend TAA.)
Congress had given President George W. Bush trade promotion authority in 2002. That authority had expired in 2007, and had never been renewed.]
The Senate rejected McConnell’s amendment by a vote of 45-55. 43 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted “yea.” 51 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have effectively expedited congressional consideration of trade agreements favored by the president.