- The Senate Finance Committee has approved "fast track" legislation granting President Obama expanded authority to negotiate trade deals.
- The proposal passed in a bipartisan 20 to 7 vote, with 7 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor.
- The legislation is based on a deal struck last week by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
President Obama says he needs trade promotion authority to negotiate the TPP
Trade promotion authority, also known as "fast track," is legislation that guarantees trade deals will get an up-or-down vote in Congress without amendments. Obama's predecessors, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have enjoyed the authority, which allowed them to negotiate a number of trade deals. But the authority expired in 2007, and Obama has struggled to get it renewed by Congress.
The White House says fast track is needed to get trade deals done because other countries will be reluctant to bargain knowing that Congress might try to modify a deal after it has been negotiated.
Of course, many fast track opponents don't want the negotiations to succeed. They've argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, currently being hammered out by countries such as the United States, Japan, Chile, and Vietnam, would benefit big companies at the expense of ordinary workers.
Senator Wyden's support was crucial to Democratic support
Fast track enjoys fairly broad support among Republicans, but is opposed by many Democrats, including minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Wyden, the senior Democrat of the Senate Finance Committee, is widely respected by Democrats, and Republican leaders have said they won't be able to get a deal passed without Wyden's support.
The key concession that earned Wyden's support is a new provision allowing Congress to withdraw the president's fast track authority if trade negotiations are not proceeding to Congress's satisfaction.