In a somewhat significant procedural move, the Senate failed to move forward on debating “fast track authority” or “trade promotion authority” after the Senate failed to come up with enough votes. The move to hold a debate on the fast track bill needed 60 votes, but only got 52 (with 45 against). Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Senator Ron Wyden — who had sponsored the fast track bill — went against it as well, noting that he (and others) needed more promises on other issues before they’d move forward:
Democrats that are supportive of Obama’s trade efforts huddled on Tuesday afternoon to plot their strategy. After nearly an hour, led by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the bloc of about 10 Democrats said McConnell has not offered them sufficient guarantees.
“The group is concerned about the lack of commitment to trade enforcement, which is specifically the customs bill,” Wyden told reporters after the meeting. “Until there is a path to get all four bills passed … we will, certainly most of us, will have to vote no.”
And thus, we have this weird situation, again, where it’s basically Republicans pushing for giving up the Senate’s Constitutional authority on trade agreements, and handing it to a Democratic President. Either way, today’s vote came down to a bit of horse trading:
Democrats want McConnell to package the so-called fast-track Trade Promotion Authority legislation with three other pieces of legislation, including one that would help workers affected by the massive trade agreement and one to crack down on currency manipulation.
But McConnell is refusing to guarantee that TPA, Trade Adjustment Assistance, the African Growth and Opportunity Act and a customs enforcement bill, which includes the currency manipulation provisions, will all be passed as part of a deal to open debate on the trade bill.
The customs provision in particular is viewed as veto-bait for the White House, potentially complicating the trade package’s future if it is approved. The measure could force the administration to designate China as a currency manipulator, which the White House fears would spark a trade war with Beijing.
What happens next, should be interesting. There will likely be a lot more negotiating and some more horse trading, but it seems that Senator Orrin Hatch, who has been the driving force behind the fast track bill, is pretty angry with Wyden for the situation today:
Hatch, though, sounded pessimistic about another round of deal-making with Wyden. A visibility agitated Hatch told reporters that the bill had become a “mess,” adding that he was “through talking.”
“I’ll always be open, but we’ve just been jerked around here too much,” Hatch said. “I expect people to live their word just like I do.”
It still has a chance of things moving forward, but for the moment, the big push to get fast track through in order to allow the TPP agreement to be completed has had to hit the brakes.